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DC Budget Win to Resolve Overcrowding and Protect Modernizations for Ward 4 Schools

Last week, the Council gave initial approval to a DC budget that includes a major win we secured for Ward 4 schools.

First, allow me to share some background on the problem. Roosevelt High School currently shares its building with Roosevelt STAY, an opportunity academy serving 16-24 year old students in a critical period of their lives. This arrangement worked when STAY was primarily a night school, but DCPS moved them to daytime programming recently. This change led to severe overcrowding for both schools, which has been exacerbated by increasing enrollment. Next year Roosevelt was projected to be the most overcrowded DCPS school with a 134% utilization rate. Still, there was no plan to address overcrowded learning conditions at Roosevelt before the fall of 2029 – even as other overcrowded DCPS schools were having their needs addressed.

Meanwhile, Truesdell Elementary is set to be modernized starting school year 2023-24. However, Ward 4’s only available swing space is at the Sharpe Health campus (swing space is a temporary facility schools move into while their building is being modernized). But Sharpe is already set to be occupied that year by Dorothy Height Elementary, which is also being modernized. The original plan was to have Truesdell swing at the Garnet-Patterson building on U Street. But it makes little sense to ask Truesdell families to send their elementary and Pre-K students to such a distant building that doesn’t even have an outdoor recess area. And the lack of a suitable swing space for Truesdell risked forcing a delay of the much-needed modernizations of Whittier Elementary and LaSalle-Backus Elementary.

In short, Ward 4 faced a concurrent overcrowding issue at its DCPS high schools and a swing space shortage that jeopardized the modernization of several elementary schools.

My team and I worked with our school communities over months to explore other potential spaces, engage DC’s education agencies, and advocate for a solution to both of these issues. Here is what we were able to secure in the DC budget:

  • Roosevelt STAY Opportunity Academy will relocate to Garnet-Patterson building. By doing so, Roosevelt STAY will no longer experience overcrowding, and its citywide population of students will benefit from a centralized, transit-accessible location. And our DC budget includes $17 million to renovate Garnet-Patterson in 2022-23 so it can meet Roosevelt STAY’s needs.
  • Roosevelt High School will have its entire building to itself. By moving Roosevelt STAY to Garnet Patterson and thus freeing up space previously needed for approximately 600 students, we will address the severe overcrowding at Roosevelt High School and prepare Roosevelt to welcome more students through its growing enrollment.
  • The Sharpe Health campus will be renovated so it can host both Truesdell Elementary and Dorothy Height Elementary. $9 million is budgeted to renovate and expand classroom space at Sharpe so both schools can co-locate there for school year 2023-24 – the one school year when the schools’ modernizations overlap. Through this solution, Truesdell will have a suitable swing space close to home in Ward 4 that has an outdoor recess area and that can meet its needs as an elementary school.
  • The modernizations of Whittier and LaSalle-Backus will stay on track. By addressing the swing space shortage in Ward 4, we prevent the risk that the long overdue modernizations of Whittier Elementary and LaSalle Backus will be delayed or that these schools will need to swing outside of Ward 4. Both schools will also benefit from the improvements made to the Sharpe campus as their future swing space.
  • Coolidge High School will benefit from a new cafeteria addition next year. Our other DCPS high school, Coolidge, also faces overcrowding issues. Thankfully, the DC budget also includes $9.6 million for construction a new cafeteria addition next year that will include a dedicated kitchen and dining area that’s separate from the kitchen shared with Ida B Wells Middle School. This will allow both schools to serve lunch at normal mealtimes and avoid overcrowding.

The bottomline is that by moving these puzzle pieces around and securing swing space funding, we are resolving overcrowding at Roosevelt High School and Roosevelt STAY, providing a suitable swing space for Truesdell, and keeping the critical modernizations of Whittier and LaSalle-Backus on track. This is a big step forward for our Ward 4 schools.

I’m proud to have worked closely with our school communities – parents, teachers, staff, and school leaders – to get this done. Thank you to Chairman Phil Mendelson for adding these changes in the revised budget; to the DCPS Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education for partnering with us; to our Ward 4 State Board of Education Member Frazier O’Leary for his leadership; and to our ANC 4D, 4C, and 4B Commissioners for their advocacy. This is the outcome of our community fighting together to support our schools!