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The Future of Empty School Buildings

The decision by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and DC Schools Chancellor Michelle A Rhee to close 23 schools still stirs pain in some parents' hearts. But in some quarters another emotion is taking root, fear -- over the fate of soon-to-be empty school buildings.

In a city that has boosted economic development as a means of tackling urban blight, and is still divided over the role of charter schools, the fear over empty school buildings boils down to at least one of the following:

a) The buildings would indeed sit idle, thereby becoming potential neighborhood eyesores.
b) The buildings would go to charter schools, which doesn't sit well with those who see charters and their growing student enrollments as competition to the D.C. Public Schools.
c) The buildings would be sold to the highest bidder.
d) All of the above.

The answer, of course, is d) all of the above. The issue is likely to flare up with some intensity in the coming weeks. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, led by Victor Reinoso, issued a 10-page application on March 17, formally known in government circles as a request for qualifications (RFQ), for anyone interested in leasing a school building. The application is due on April 4.

Now according to DC law-- and for those of you who like to get technical with it, it's Section 2209(b)(1) -- the city must give charter schools a "preference" to certain facilities or properties. With some charter schools spending upwards of $50,000 and more a month on rent, it's no wonder that word of this application is spreading fast in charter circles. However, the mayor's proposed 2009 budget, which he released last week, also mentions making empty school buildings available for government offices.

The administration is getting feedback from residents. It held three public meetings last Thursday night on the future of empty school buildings in Wards 4, 5 and 8, and has two more sessions scheduled for tonight for Wards 1 and 7, from 6 to 8 pm.

By Theola Labbé-DeBose  |  March 24, 2008; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Education , Theola Labbé-DeBose  
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