School Modernization

Article excerpt


The Sept. 25 editorial concerning McKinley Technology High School lacked a few things: the facts. One important fact you do point out is that this project was initiated by Mayor Tony Williams (and Council member Vincent Orange), not by DCPS. Thereby hangs the tale.

FACT: McKinley was bumped to the front of the line ahead of approved, pre-planned, fully budgeted DCPS facilities projects that were ready to go. It's hard to conduct adequate advance planning without advance notice.

FACT: The $25 million that Office of the D.C. Auditor and the Washington Times cite as the full project budget for McKinley was never intended to be a cost projection based on a scope of work. It was what the Mayor indicated he would put towards a new technology high school, presumably to be matched by private matching funds (that never materialized).

FACT: Although more money overall was spent on construction, the planning and design phases drove the cost overruns. Your own September 22 article by Jim McElhatton rightly characterizes these as mostly occurring under the supervision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In fact, the construction firm caught and corrected many design errors and omissions caused by the architectural firm and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and DCPS cut millions of dollars from the plans early in construction to contain costs. Delays by the USACE greatly reduced that cost savings. These omissions and delays were characteristic of a bizarre hybrid management arrangement that arose in the Control Board era and that would only be tolerated in Washington and need be tolerated no longer.

FACT: The Mayor and the City's Chief Technology Officer abandoned their commitment to deliver important components to the McKinley Technology Campus Project in August 2002. This left DCPS to carry the community expectations alone. The 66,000 undeveloped square feet are a testament to that abandonment.

The real wonder is not that this flawed project was over budget but that it became "worth bragging about" (your words) despite these impediments. And the real modernization goes on inside its walls every day, with a state-of-the-art curriculum that the principal and PTA fought for during the arduous three-year construction process.

The moral of the McKinley story: We need pragmatic, comprehensive, publicly accountable planning and management in the modernization of our schools. …