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Statement of Charles Williams, Chief Operating Officer, DC Public Schools
before the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, United States Senate
January 14, 1998




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Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Charles Williams, Chief Operating Officer for the District of Columbia Public Schools. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to update you on our recent efforts to address the major facilities issues we are facing and to describe our plans for the future.

As you know, this administration inherited a $2 billion infrastructure problem. The average DCPS facility is over 50 years old, and before the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees was appointed routine maintenance had been neglected for years. We were truly facing an emergency situation with our facilities, and I want to say right up front that although we have made tremendous progress we are still treating the facilities stabilization effort as an emergency project.

In response to a congressional directive, one of our first actions was to develop a Long Range Facilities Master Plan. We released our first draft of the plan in February 1997. The plan is a "living document" and will be continuously modified as academic needs or priorities change, additional funds become available, or emergencies arise. Minor modifications were made to the plan in July; it will be subject to a comprehensive review, including public input, this month.

The plan serves as both an interstate road map to high quality, safe public school facilities and a schedule for capital projects and budget projections. The plan has three phases: stabilization, functionality, and modernization.

Stabilization: We knew that our first step must be to stabilize crumbling and unsafe facilities. This phase, which began in FY97 and will continue in FY98, covers roofs, boilers and chillers, generators, some window replacement, some environmental quality work and some ADA compliance. Stabilization is the most urgent phase of the plan, during which we are primarily addressing deficiencies in the building "envelope."

Functionality: Once we have stabilized the facilities, we must ensure that they are functional as environments for learning. This phase includes: complete systems upgrades, bathroom renovations, window replacements, new fencing where needed, and completion of the ADA compliance and environmental quality work in FY99-00.

Modernization: Beginning in FY00, we intend to move into the modernization phase of the plan. This phase will include construction of some new facilities, new additions to existing structures, major interior renovations, and a complete upgrade of the system's athletic facilities.

As part of the stabilization effort, I am pleased to report that we completed 61 full roof replacements and 5 major roof repairs in FY97. Mr. Chairman, this massive effort was made possible, in large part, by the funding you made available to us through your legislation privatizing "Connie Lee," and I want to publicly acknowledge and thank you for that. Those funds, and funds made available through your privatization of "Sallie Mae," have given us a tremendous boost as we continue work on our $2 billion infrastructure stabilization and improvement program.

In know you are aware that our roof replacement effort was substantially complicated by a lawsuit brought against the District of Columbia in 1993 by Parents United. This suit was initially brought to require the Fire Department to inspect school buildings and, ultimately, to increase DCPS' capital funding. Unfortunately, the suit resulted in the imposition of restrictions on capital work that were so strict we were left to make the difficult decision to delay the opening of schools to complete this major roof replacement effort or set aside the roof program and subject those children to another year of leaking roofs, fire code violations, and unpredictable school closings. We made the decision to complete the roof repairs and, although we were criticized by many people, I firmly believe that we did what was right for children by moving forward with the work. It was with great relief that we settled the suit last November.

We also abated some 1600 fire code violations during FY97 (an achievement that sometimes goes overlooked), and we have developed a productive relationship with the Fire Department which allows for regular inspections of our schools and timely abatement of any new code violations in a manner that does not disrupt the education of children.

We know that at least another 45 schools have roofs that have outlived their useful lives, and they are scheduled for replacement during FY98. Our FY98 plan also calls for repair or replacement of 44 boilers. We recognize the urgency of this effort and we are doing our best to ensure that all of our schools have functional heating capacity pending installation of new systems where needed. In addition, we have developed a new protocol for boiler replacement which will ensure the safety of children and staff during school operation.

Although we hope these efforts will not require student relocations, we have established three alternative placement sites in case students need to be moved out of their schools for short periods. These sites – Taft JH (which was closed last year), Douglass JH (also closed), and the University of the District of Columbia – provide us with over 3,800 classroom seats, equipped for 1200 elementary students and 2669 junior and senior high students. This swing space also will be used to house school populations while we completely renovate and modernize their facilities.

We have developed a process for working with school principals and others to ensure that capital projects are undertaken in a manner that is open, orderly, and causes as little disruption to education as possible. The centerpiece of this process is the "preconstruction conference." A preconstruction conference will be held before any major project is begun at any school. Participants in the conference will include the school principal, representation from the school LSRT and PTA, the DCPS project manager and other facilities staff, the relevant assistant superintendent, the contractor, and other interested parties from the community and the media. Our capital projects advisor, Mr. Don Brown, also will be invited to each of these conferences.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the availability of funds for capital improvements at DCPS. As you know, our long-range plan envisions over $200 million in capital work during FY98. In my view, this is the amount of work we should do to stay on track for completing the entire plan over 10 years. We currently have identified about $80 million that will be available for capital in FY98. We know that a higher level of funding is needed, and we intend to explore every possible avenue for acquiring those funds.

Again, allow me to express our deep gratitude to you for your tremendous efforts to provide support for our capital programs in past years. I am hopeful that we can continue to work together on this critically important effort.

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