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$25 million plan to fix school restrooms

But officials, advocates canít produce list of which

D.C. public schools will get what repairs

(Published March 8, 1999)

By LUTISHIA PHILLIPS

Staff Writer

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman wants to spend $25 million dollars to repair restrooms in more than two-thirds of the cityís public schools next year. Yet, after two weeks of repeated phone calls, no one ó including school officials Ė could describe what needs to be fixed or in which schools repairs will be made.

Among those asked to name schools needing the repairs were D.C. Public Schools officials; members of Teamsters Local 730, which represents school custodians; an oversight organization on school facilities called the 21st Century School Fund; and the D.C. Health Department. None could produce a list of the schools with non-functioning facilities or unhealthful restroom conditions.

A staff member for schools advocacy group Parents United, the lead organization involved in a lawsuit over unsafe school conditions that delayed the start of the 1997-98 school year, said her group hasnít received or heard of any complaints from parents or students regarding restrooms.

Late in the day March 5, as The Common Denominator prepared to go to press, school officials produced a list of four schools that have had their hot water problems solved during the past two weeks. Birney and Davis elementary schools in Southeast and Tubman Elementary School and Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest now have hot water.

Denise Tann, DCPS director of communications, said the list of schools requiring repairs takes time to retrieve "because many of the work orders have not been put into the computer system yet."

Teamsters union members, who have spent months testifying and complaining about school conditions after Ackerman fired 350 school custodians last summer, said they too couldnít determine which schools have restroom problems.

The group has even issued a packet titled "Why Canít Our Children Attend Clean, Safe, Warm Schools?" Within the packet are press releases, articles, WAMU transcripts and an excerpt from DCPS fiscal 1999 budget materials ó all about the lack of cleanliness and repairs.

In his testimony at D.C. City Councilman Kevin Chavousís hearing last month on boiler replacements in the public schools, union member and chief engineer Curtis Downs said he had spoken with parents whose children have complained about "smelly restrooms" among other deplorable conditions.

Downs recently said he didnít know of these conditions and that Gene Kilbe, DCPS director of operations and maintenance, would have the information. Kilbe was unavailable for comment. A transcript from a February interview on WAMU shows Kilbe said itís difficult to keep up with the complaints about facilities.

Tann said DCPS hopes to compile the information soon.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator