Last Saturday I attended the Ward 3 community education discussion hosted by D.C. Councilman David Catania. Councilman Grasso, who is on the council’s education committee that Mr. Catania chairs, assisted in leading the session. I was joined by Martha Cutts, the Head of Washington Latin Public Charter School and our spouses. I have to say I was impressed with what I saw.
This was a relaxed Mr. Catania who showed up on this day. He started the two hour mid-morning meeting by speaking for only for a few minutes. He talked about the strong attendance he has seen at his other forums. In fact, the room was packed although the weather outside was warm and sunny. He also spoke about his goal of visiting all of the approximately 200 public schools, both traditional and charters, in the nation’s capital. He has completed about 40 percent of this task. In addition, the councilman briefly outlined the seven bills he has before his legislative body.
What was abundantly clear to those in the audience is the command of the material this man has gained. He was knowledgeable about almost any school that the audience brought up. He knew student feeder patterns from elementary school, to middle school, up to high school. He could also recite from memory many of the DC CAS scores these institutions have recorded.
I had the opportunity to ask the first question. I explained that Washington Latin PCS is now spending $20 million to renovate the former DCPS Rudolph Elementary School which was in horrible condition, and I asked why charters do not receive school modernization funds like the regular schools do. He immediately replied that charters receive $3,000 per student in facility funds that DCPS schools do not. This is also the reason, he continued, that charters pay rent that traditional schools do not have to pay.
His response pointed directly to the problem with the charter facility allowance. The funding was cut by Mayor Fenty years ago from $3,200 to $2,800 a pupil per term. The Federal three sector money brought it up to $3,000 a student, dollars that the D.C. government now covers.
It has stayed at this amount ever since. Charters find it almost impossible to rent adequate facilities with this amount of revenue. If charters are fortunate enough to obtain a shuttered DCPS site, banks find it extremely challenging to come up with a financial proforma in which building renovation loans can realistically be repaid. Charters face these difficulties at the same time that it is estimated that the traditional schools receive about three times this amount per student each year in school modernization and maintenance dollars.
Mr. Catania did concede that it was probably time to re-look at the level of the charter school facility allotment. Let’s hope that somehow this issue rises to the top of his crowded priority list.