Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The fourth problem with schools planning in DC: over over capacity, which is further expanded with each new school

This isn't exactly a DCPS problem, unlike the others listed in the entry yesterday.  Today's Post has an article, "KIPP DC proposes new high school in Southwest Washington," about how the KIPP DC charter school wants to create a new high school in Southwest DC.  Meanwhile DCPS has 15 high schools (one is scheduled to close next year), and a majority of the schools are significantly under-enrolled.  Most of these schools could handle 1500 to 2000 students if full.  The two schools in Ward 4, Coolidge and Roosevelt, each have less than 600 students.

So why should we be building a new high school?  (In fact, DC should not have rebuilt Dunbar, something I wrote about here, "More on a new middle school for Ward 3.")

The basic problem with both DCPS and charter schools is that they compete for students and that the student population isn't growing that much, considering the number of charter schools competing for students, of course, for the most part, DCPS's "market share" will decline.

But at the same time, it's uneconomic to keep building-renovating new schools given this reality.

1.  The big problem with building-creating new schools in DC is that the overall student population (enrollments) is basically fixed.  Yes, they're rising some but not hugely.

2.  DC Public Schools has a relatively large footprint of schools, plenty large enough to serve the total number of students attending public school in DC.

3.  But Public Charter Schools also compete for these students.

4.  And in turn build/renovate/create their own schools and campuses.

5.  The process for authorizing new schools by the Public School Charter Board allows for schools to be created solely on the basis of the application and certification procedure they have set up, but with absolutely no consideration of overall demand, and without an overall capital improvement budgeting process for school buildings.

That's not just an issue with this KIPP proposal.  It's also an issue with other proposals for new charter schools. 

For example, Rocketship wants to create as many as 8 schools in the city ("Rocketship Education to open eight charter schools in DC" from WJLA-TV) with an eventual enrollment of 5,200 students by 2019.  Note that 5,200 students is 13.6% of the DCPS 2012 K-12 enrollment of 38,197 students.

But it's not like the student enrollment is increasingly significantly, so of course the success of the Rocketship Schools will be fully dependent on their ability to capture student enrollment from existing schools (not just public schools, charter schools too).

It's the market run amok.

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At 8:48 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd be curious to know how much has been spent on school renovations -- public, private and charter - since 2007. Maybe 3 billion? DC alone spent 1.7?

Glad to see you agree the estimates for future growth in DC are exaggerated and we don't need the height limit raised! That being said, there is a pool of white kids that isn't being captured. How may students go to private school in DC -- 10,000? 20,000?

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Good point as always. And that's what likely will change with the charter schools, as the kids become older. E.g., did you see the proposal by LAMB, the Chinese language school, and another charter school I think, to create a charter high school jointly?

And Paul jr. high charter school is planning to expand to senior high.

2. wrt "the positive deviance" approach and building from strength, I would have "Wilson" school expand to either Coolidge or Roosevelt.

Alternatively, Western High School should be re-created and Ellington should be moved to either Roosevelt or Coolidge (either are located within four blocks of a subway station) as a way to both add controlled high school capacity and as a way to recapture and improve one of the existing high schools.

At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any consideration that charters are building for force the excess space so they can flip their publically financed new buildings to condos if needed in the future? The whole KIPP thing at Randall just seems like they're trying to do a land grab with a building that will house a high school in the short term, but maybe not long term as populations decline. It just seems weird. Isn't anybody doing the demographic predictions for either of the two school systems? It's madness!

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This was a problem in the past, not so much the charter schools, but other organizations, such as Georgetown University, got DCPS surplus properties for virtually nothing, and later flipped them.

wrt charter schools I do believe that now there are recapture provisions in the use of DCPS facilities. But I don't know for sure.

The charters I see functioning in former DCPS facilities certainly appear to me to be fully committed to long term success as thriving schools.

Charters do get public money, but supplement it with private money, for building rehab. And they do spend this money on some buildings that have been converted to school use from nonschool use. (Such as buildings in industrial zones, like Chillum Place NW or 8th St. NE in Brookland.) It's not clear to me what happens there, and how the DC public monies are recaptured, if they are, if a building changes ownership.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Mari said...

I'm happy Dunbar is getting rebuilt, damned thing looks like a prison (so did the old Shaw library). Also we, the neighborhood, are to get O Street back with the new campus layout. Hopefully that will get some pressure off of P St.
Now if only DCPS would only offer many parents what they want east of the river, maybe those schools wouldn't be so empty.

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your tally of the DCPS capacity does not account for the QUALITY of the properties. Many of these places are dungeons, and have been that way for years. Even some of the most well regarded DCPS schools are quite dog-eared. The school rehabs and new construction is catching up to the need.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Improving and reinvesting in the facilities is different from building new ones, irrespective of Mari's comment.

E.g., in my area, there isn't demand to fill both Coolidge and Roosevelt so both schools can thrive.

Similarly, the NE area didn't have enough capacity to fill both Eastern (completely renovated a few years ago) and Spingarn. So now Spingarn is going to close.

Anyway, there is some need for rightsizing. But if KIPP wants to have a high school so badly, let's just rent them one of the existing high schools.

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Jacques said...

@Richard Layman -- with regard to Wormley School, Georgetown acquired that property with every intent to use it, first as a home for the public policy program, and later as an expansion of the library. It was only after neighborhood opposition, in the first case, and a lack of funding, in the second case, that the university ultimately decided they would be best off removing it from their inventory.

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, it's hard for me to imagine the U didn't have the money... but I can appreciate neighborhood opposition. Thanks for elucidating.


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