District Dossier

For New Leaders, Old Problems

Many D.C. schools lack air conditioning; some missing texts.

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Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is now in charge of the 55,000-student public school system in the District of Columbia, but preparing for the first day of the 2007-08 school year in the nation’s capital is proving to be as vexing as ever.

A frustrated Mayor Fenty and his handpicked schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee, announced late last month that despite efforts to assure a smooth opening on Aug. 27, many schools and classrooms are not going to be ready.

Half the city’s school buildings won’t have air-conditioning units repaired or new ones installed, and some campuses won’t have all their textbooks available to distribute to students on the first day, they said.

“The chancellor and I are just completely disgusted,” the mayor told reporters at a news conference held four weeks before the start of the new school year. “Although we inherited these problems, we think getting these repairs done is a very important benchmark for this administration.”

The duo—who have been in charge of the school system only since June 12—had hoped to avoid the sort of opening-day blunders that have been common in previous years.

But conquering long lists of deferred-maintenance requests and straightening out a faulty textbook-ordering system have been tricky. In one case, Ms. Rhee said, elementary school texts were sent to a high school. In another, French textbooks were ordered for a high school that doesn’t offer the language.

A special task force was set up to fix the problems.

Not all the news for the new leaders was disappointing.

Ms. Rhee announced that, under an agreement with the Washington Teachers Union, a “pilot school” program would start this year. Thirteen schools will be able to adopt academic policies such as longer days, an extended-year calendar, and dual-language programs. Some of the participating schools also will have partial control over their budgets to pay such costs as hiring their own repair people to handle maintenance.

The agreement on the pilot-schools idea was hammered out by the union and former Superintendent Clifford B. Janey. Mr. Fenty fired Mr. Janey after a governance change handed authority to the mayor.

See Also
See other stories on education issues in the District of Columbia. See data on the District of Columbia's public school system.

Vol. 26, Issue 45, Page 5

Published in Print: August 15, 2007, as For New Leaders, Old Problems

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