WASHINGTON — Parents, teachers, and education officials reiterated their concerns about the state of school building maintenance in D.C. during a District council meeting Tuesday.
The council’s facilities and family services committee held the first of two performance oversight hearings for the District’s Department of General Services [DGS] Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday’s hearing revolved around testimony provided by public witnesses. DGS leadership and staff are expected to testify during another DGS oversight meeting Thursday.
Many District of Columbia Public Schools [DCPS] families have criticized DGS over the last few years for not addressing maintenance problems in school buildings in a timely manner.
The government agency, which has more than 700 workers, is tasked with maintaining DCPS schools and other District government buildings.
However, WUSA9 has covered multiple stories detailing issues with HVAC units, broken door locks, and security cameras in DCPS schools.
D.C. residents who testified during Tuesday’s meeting told the council such problems continue to persist.
"HVAC failures at other schools have been so severe that entire buildings have been closed for multiple days,” said Sarah Cissna, a DCPS parent and board member of the Capitol Hill Cluster School Parent Teacher Association.
D.C. Councilmember and Committee Chair Janeese Lewis George said she hears about school maintenance issues in her office almost daily.
"Some persistent maintenance issues call into question are management of facilities," she said.
Lewis George added routine requests stay open for too long in the District and that only 54 percent of non-emergency work orders were completed within their service level agreement period in 2022.
"Improving our basic response times is essential to making our schools safe and productive for learning,” she said.
D.C. Councilmember Zachary Parker said the council may need to take some sort of action against DGS to improve its efficiency.
"I'm just about persuaded that we need to take decisive action against DGS as an agency,” he said. “We took action against DCRA as an agency because of its repeated failures and, I think, what we've seen here is, we've allowed an agency to fail, not just with our schools, but with our rec centers, our park grounds, time and time again."
WUSA9 has reached out to DGS for comment in response to Parker’s comments.
Lewis George said DGS leaders were listening into Tuesday’s meeting before their participation in Thursday’s hearing.
In November, the Office of the D.C. Auditor released a report that claimed DGS had the tools it needed to perform the work requested of it around the District. However, Auditor Kathy Patterson went on to say DGS’ efforts had been hampered because the department was not tracking its work orders properly.
Over the last year, DGS has worked to upgrade its online public work order dashboard, which can be used to track performed service work in DCPS buildings.
“The expansion of this reporting tool includes work orders beyond heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and meets an additional milestone for the agency to continue providing accountability, providing parents and school communities with a new level of transparency, while providing information on anticipated timeframes on when repairs will be completed,” DGS’ website reads.
The dashboard now provides updates on a weekly basis and will later include live temperature readings for DCPS facilities, according to DGS.
Currently, DGS’ dashboard shows there are more than 3,600 open work orders in DCPS facilities.
Roosevelt High School, in Northwest, D.C., has the most open work orders with 168.
Wards 4, 6, and 7 currently have the highest amount of open work orders, according to dashboard data.
"Students in Ward 4, 5, 7, and 8, who are majority students of color, are more likely to experience crumbling school infrastructure, non-functioning bathrooms and lengthy delays in repairs, just to name a few," said Marja Plater, senior attorney of the Washington Lawyer’s Committee.