A marathon school budget hearing kicked off Thursday morning with a group of elementary school students from Orr Elementary. Third-grader Rontay Hall told the Education Committee that the D.C. Council made a promise when he was in first grade that he would have a new school.
This spring, funds for Orr Elementary got pushed back in Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s proposed capital budget, along with funds for nearly 20 school renovations. At the same time, the plan added $30 million to the budget for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, making it the most expensive high school project to date.
Orr Elementary has had its capital funding delayed multiple times over the past decade. At the hearing, the students talked about mice-infested classrooms, an outdated open-floor plan and a 40-year old boiler that makes some rooms unbearably hot.
“I want a building I can be proud of,” Hall said. “A building that will help us learn.”
More than 140 people signed up to speak at the budget hearings Thursday. The first hearing started at 10 a.m. and lasted well into the afternoon. The second was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Students and parents spoke about proposed cuts to Wilson High School and after-school programming, among other proposed changes. Many focused their comments on the capital plan.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), the Education Committee chairman, said at the beginning of the hearing that he is concerned that some projects have spun “out of control” and are too costly. He also said he is “deeply concerned about equity in capital spending.”
He cited 26 schools that have not been touched despite seven years of intensive investments in school modernizations. The majority are elementary schools, including many east of the Anacostia River, he said.
“I can’t in good conscience urge my colleagues to pass this capital budget as is,” he said.
Grosso said he is working with others to come up with a plan for evaluating the capital budget, taking into account some objective factors, including enrollment, building condition, building utilization and projections about population growth in the area.
Both winners and losers in the capital budget have taken to Twitter in recent weeks to showcase their progress or needs.
The following are tweets from two members of the State Board of Education. Murch, a crowded elementary school in Ward 3, was funded to begin a long-awaited modernization next year. Eliot-Hine, a Ward 6 middle school, had its funding pushed back from 2016 to 2019.