In one of his most visible moves since taking control of the District of Columbia schools, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty oversaw a summer campaign to fix broken air conditioners, leaky roofs, and other problems at half the district’s schools.
The city spent $80 million on a wide range of repairs at 70 of 142 schools, and plans to spend another $120 million in the coming months on tougher jobs at others, such as replacing roofs or heating systems.
The work is the first step in a 10-year, $2.3 billion effort to tackle deteriorating physical conditions and a backlog of 10,000 work orders.
Former Superintendent Clifford B. Janey launched the repair program, but was fired when Mr. Fenty won control of Washington’s 55,000-student school system in June. Mayor Fenty chose Michelle A. Rhee for the new job of schools chancellor, and tapped Allen Y. Lew to oversee facilities modernization. (“Mayor Takes Control, Picks Novice to Lead Troubled D.C. District,” June 20, 2007.)
The $80 million slated for the summer repairs quickly escalated when Mr. Lew and his team visited schools.
“I don’t think anybody could have adequately described the depth of the problem that we walked into,” said Tony Robinson, Mr. Lew’s spokesman. “If you go into some of these schools, you’d think we were a Third World country.”
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In a recent examination of the system, The Washington Post found that schools wait an average of 379 days for responses to “urgent” requests.
The flurry of fixes has sparked optimism in some quarters.
“It has a lot of people going back into school feeling improvements that were desperately needed have been made,” said Margot Berkey, the director of D.C. Parents United, a school watchdog group.
But Dorothy Brizill, the executive director of DCWatch, another group that monitors school issues, called the repairs “easy PR” for the first-term mayor. She is skeptical that city leaders know how to involve the community in forging change in the classroom and the central office.
“I’m still waiting for something beyond the press conference,” Ms. Brizill said.
A version of this article appeared in the September 05, 2007 edition of Education Week