Game Of Insiders: Ferebee-Hope

Until the mayor announced in May that closed DCPS Ward 8 school Ferebee-Hope would be put up for charter offer (RFO), there had been no public notice that anything new was happening with the school, which had been closed since 2013.

In fact, official silence to the public regarding this facility–which contains (on more than 10 acres) nearly 200,000 square feet in three buildings, along with a rec center operated by the department of parks and recreation–was so extensive that it wasn’t until well after that May announcement that I even noticed that Ferebee-Hope was left off entirely from the master facilities plan (MFP), which was released in November 2018 (and re-released in February 2019).

A mistake?

Hardly: Ferebee-Hope is a perfect example of how the mayor on down is enabled by law and practice to ignore every member of the public regarding the future of DCPS school facilities. In the case of Ferebee-Hope, however, the consequence of that disregard to the poorest ward in the city is dire–and appears to accrue directly to the benefit of one charter (and mayoral benefactor), KIPP.

Destroying Ward 8 Education Rights

Between November 2013 and January 2014, and about 6 months after public comment ended, a clause was inserted in the Comprehensive Planning and Utilization of School Facilities Amendment Act of 2014 that allows the mayor to turn any DCPS school over for a charter at any moment. (Yes, really: see D(ii) of that link to the law.) As DC public school expert Mary Levy has noted, there was no discussion of this clause by council members at the bill’s mark-up. Indeed, until the legislation was approved by the council in April 2014, no one in the public was aware at all of this provision (nor had a chance to object to it before it was approved).

In the case of Ferebee-Hope, it thus appears the mayor is simply exercising her right to turn the facility over for charter RFO without public deliberation.

But the loss of Ferebee-Hope as a school of right has far-reaching ramifications for Ward 8 DCPS schools of right, some of which are projected to be overcapacity in that area in less than a decade. Without Ferebee-Hope, there will be no way to accommodate those students in their schools of right in that area—which means that any student population in that area (currently very high and projected to grow 16% by 2025, per an August 8 community presentation by the deputy mayor for education (DME)) will inevitably benefit whatever charter school locates in Ferebee-Hope.

And it gets worse:

For years, Ferebee-Hope had been listed on official city documents both as swing space as well as a potential new school for DCPS as part of the 2014 boundaries plan, to accommodate that expected growth in the local student population.

But a recent analysis by Mary Levy shows that most DCPS schools around Ferebee-Hope have not received complete modernizations–and that with the loss of Ferebee-Hope from DCPS, there is now no swing space anywhere in either Ward 7 or Ward 8 to accommodate renovations.

In fact, as Levy’s graph below shows, the modernization imbalance in the city continues to be skewed along racial and class lines, with Ward 8 the biggest loser:


Copyright 2019 Mary Levy

With the loss of Ferebee-Hope as both swing space and relief for overcrowding of schools of right in its area, and with continuing inequity of DCPS modernizations, it appears that DCPS schools around Ferebee-Hope may never be fully modernized absent great sacrifices on the part of students and families at those schools.

Moreover, there will not be any way for DCPS to accommodate the rights of students to attend schools nearby, which means that the 2014 boundary plan for that area has been effectively declared null and void with the RFO of Ferebee-Hope.

Far from happenstance, however, such disasters for communities across the Anacostia appear to be part of a plan.

KIPP: All Hands On (Ferebee-Hope’s) Deck

In 2017, a document called a “landscape” of closed DCPS facilities, created by the DME, had listed Ferebee-Hope as vacant, but possibly needed for re-opening per the boundary plan.

But the most recent iteration of this document, dated August 2019, leaves out Ferebee-Hope entirely as part of DCPS and summarily declares it excess.

Possibly worse, the statutory requirement that the MFP include an appendix designating DCPS facilities as excess, vacant or otherwise designated for programming or the boundary plan, was omitted from the 2018 MFP. (For instance, the May 2016 appendix listed Ferebee-Hope as needed to reopen based on the boundaries plan. The May 2017 appendix listed Ferebee-Hope the same way and also noted its use as swing space–which it was a few years ago for Savoy, when that school battled a bedbug infestation.)

But all planning for Ferebee-Hope as a DCPS school, and its public dissemination, stopped sometime in 2018–without anyone in the public knowing, much less consenting to being left in the dark regarding the fate of the building.

Interestingly, in February 2019, performance oversight responses given to the council by DCPS list Ferebee-Hope as “swing” space. And a website currently hosted by the DME also listed Ferebee-Hope as swing space (see a screen shot here).

So it would appear that someone somewhere in DC government made a decision sometime in 2018 to get rid of Ferebee-Hope from the DCPS portfolio. All the while the public (and city council!) knew nothing about ANY of this–which, if technically not violating the law, certainly violates its spirit.

On July 9, for instance, the department of general services (DGS) and the DME held the first of two public meetings on the school’s re-use. That meeting was billed as a “surplus hearing,” which technically fulfilled statutory requirements to notify the public about, and solicit feedback, on any declaration of any DCPS school as surplus (i.e., not needed by DCPS).

Yet, despite the promise to the public that the July 9 meeting would allow planners to “engage with the community on planning the future of the site,” there is no public record of what happened at the meeting. (See a DGS website for Ferebee-Hope here; another DGS website on Ferebee-Hope is equally unrevealing.) According to one community member who attended the July 9 meeting, despite a dearth of local community members in attendance, KIPP was well-represented, having apparently sent out an email to its schools about the meeting.

The next community meeting was held a month later, on August 8. Again, the community was invited to engage on future uses of Ferebee-Hope–but this time, explicitly, “including a charter school and modernization of the recreation center.” (See a video of the meeting here–notably, there is no clear, city-provided record of this meeting. But enjoy the exchanges with residents who questioned why there were few notices to the community about the meeting and why no one from DCPS was in attendance to explain DCPS’s letting go–while representatives from the department of parks and recreation, DGS, DME, and KIPP were in attendance.)

It is thus clear that by August 8, no matter what anyone from the community (or even DCPS planners) had said at any time about Ferebee-Hope, the mayor had determined not only that Ferebee-Hope was “surplus” (i.e., not needed by DCPS), but that it was also not needed by any other city agency–and thus “excess.” Because DC law requires “excess” schools to be offered to charters through an RFO, Ferebee-Hope now had to be offered to a charter school.

And indeed, later that month, on August 29, an RFO was issued.

[Confidential to DC residents: Isn’t it incredible how fast our city government can work? Or, rather, how fast it can work when you’re not an active part of the transaction?]

But that August 29 RFO online posting has been updated multiple times after it was posted—despite its date of, well, August 29. (See here and here and here for a few different versions.)

The main differences in those versions linked above are in the dates of the walk-throughs: there had been one walkthrough, slated for September 4, which was then changed to September 6–and then another added sometime afterward, for September 13. None were noted on either the DC Register or the city’s public calendar.

In other words, if you knew about the moving target that was those two walkthroughs, you were either really, really obsessive with websites (or friends with someone who is)–or blessed with being handed that information directly by someone at DGS or DME as it got updated.

Not surprisingly, at the first walk-through on September 6, I was the only person attending who was not being paid by someone to be there. Some of the three dozen or so people in attendance were engineers and architects hoping to catch a ride with a successful charter bid, while the balance appeared to be KIPP employees, including the school’s president, CEO, and board chair. I did not see anyone from any other charter school represented.

Afterward, when I called the ANC commissioner for that area, Karlene Armstead, she said she knew nothing about that walkthrough. When the second walkthrough was posted, I didn’t see it until weeks later–nor did Armstead.

In other words, charter schools in DC often complain that they struggle for facilities–but some appear a bit more, uh, equal to that struggle than others.

Indeed, this scheme ensures that whatever the public wants, or doesn’t want, with respect to their DCPS facilities can ultimately get reduced to whatever a charter school wants or doesn’t want–depending on how well-informed that charter school is, of course. Though we may never know the insider’s game here fully, certainly DCPS deputy chancellor Melissa Kim knows well KIPP’s ambitions, having worked for the charter before directly coming to DCPS as a central office administrator–and after showing no hesitation about the possibility of future DCPS closures.

Now, until that August 29 RFO document is changed again (and good luck figuring out when that happens ;-), the next public meeting for Ferebee-Hope is slated for November 14, to announce its disposition. Thereafter, the mayor needs to seek council approval for both the surplus designation as well as the disposition.

Until then, there’s utterly nothing even slowing down the mayor from doing whatever she wants WRT this school building.

For instance, at that September 6 walkthrough I attended, I asked the DGS representative for the RFO of Ferebee-Hope, Ikeogu Imo, to explain the process by which DC government agencies were asked about Ferebee-Hope by DGS. Per DC code, DGS requires DC government agencies to weigh in on whether they need a surplus DCPS facility before it is offered to a charter school as “excess.” Imo stated that no DC government agency wanted Ferebee-Hope because it was too big, thus allowing it to be put up for RFO as a charter school.

But it turns out that not only is there no reference document publicly available from DGS to show that decision making, but in response to me asking about it, Imo merely noted that DGS is “aware of demand data that allows us to eliminate this asset for repurposing.”

That all suggests that DGS did NOT go to city agencies, as required by law, and ask specifically about Ferebee-Hope. It also suggests that no one at DGS considered offering just a part of Ferebee-Hope to DC agencies. Rather, it appears that someone at DGS consulted a list compiled of agency needs, didn’t see anything to match the total square footage of Ferebee-Hope, and called it a day.

(Nice work if you can get it.)

As the mayor is the boss of both DGS and every other DC government agency, the reality is that if she wants Ferebee-Hope to be a charter and not a DC government agency, DC government agency heads will be silenced–even if they absolutely want and need the facility.

That’s certainly not a good look in a democracy–or in a city that has deep needs in its population.

Moreover, while it is entirely possible that Ferebee-Hope was accidentally left off the MFP, we now know that the council received two official documents in a short span of time–the MFP in November 2018 and the council response from DCPS in spring 2019–that said different, and contradictory, things about Ferebee-Hope.

Taken with the lack of scrutiny for alternative uses for Ferebee-Hope, that suggests our mayor was actively misleading both the general public as well as the council regarding the school’s disposition.

And possibly all for an insider charter candidate that has donated heavily to this mayor.

You don’t need to live in Ward 8 to smell the same stench I got from my unanswered emails and phone calls to DME and DGS officials about Ferebee-Hope–because unless you get lucky or have lots of political power, this may be happening in your neighborhood right now. (Maybe you want to check out when the council holds a hearing on Ferebee-Hope–it may be a good time to speak up for your own neighborhood’s schools of right, because after this, it’s pretty clear few others in DC government will.)

[Update 10/2/19: Alerted by a reader, I found that the MFP apparently also did not mention some other DCPS-owned facilities, including Davis (where Bard is currently located); Wilkinson; Emery; Garnet-Patterson; Meyer; Sharpe; Shaw; and Old Hardy. In addition, closed schools Spingarn and Winston were mentioned only in passing, as vacant. Moreover, after this blog was posted on 10/1, I received an email from Alex Cross, the facilities manager for the DME. I had emailed him with questions about Ferebee-Hope on 9/7/19; on 9/23/19 I also left a phone message and tried multiple times via phone to reach him–all unsuccessfully. In his email of 10/1 to me, Cross noted that I needed to submit my questions at this link. Questions about Ferebee-Hope I sent on 9/14 to the DGS rep. for Ferebee-Hope, Ikeogu Imo, also have not yet been answered; in a prior email exchange with Imo, I was referred to Alex Cross to get answers to most of those questions.]

[Update 10/4/19: Apparently on Monday 9/30/19, DME created a new website here of ed “briefs.” The only posting, a “brief” on closed DCPS facilities, is here. It identifies three DCPS schools being “assessed” for future use, the detail of which is not there. Rather, those three schools are mentioned on Appendix E of the August document here, and they are Winston (Ward 7); Langston (Ward 5); and Spingarn (Ward 5). The document notes that they are “vacant and undergoing DCPS programmatic review.”]

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