WASHINGTON — DC Public Schools gets a failing grade from some parents and teachers when it comes to keeping up with repairs to its aging school buildings. Now, one of D.C.'s Councilmembers says the district must do better.
Jennifer Fitzpatrick, a teacher at Langdon Elementary School in Ward 5, took her complaints about slow repairs to social media, tweeting at D.C.’s Mayor and the Chancellor of Public Schools: “My heart hurts for these kids and our staff that you have shown, through your lack of action, that you don’t care.”
One Langdon parent responded that her son’s classroom “hasn’t had lights or working AC since Sept. 6”.
At-Large DC Councilmember Robert White is Chair of the DC Council’s Committee on Facilities and Procurement which has worked to streamline and speed up work orders across the school district. Including a backlog of hundreds of broken security cameras district-wide.
“We have an obligation to keep our students and people who work in our schools safe,” White said.
Records obtained by WUSA9 through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that at the start of the fall semester there were at least 313 broken security cameras in DC schools. DCPS records show one high school had a staggering 82 security cameras that were not working. An elementary school was listed with 34 non-working cameras. WUSA9 is not naming the schools for security purposes.
“The problem isn't limited to just security cameras,” White said. “We have issues with broken lights in some schools, broken windows, broken door locks in some schools.”
White said the city has made progress in reducing repair delays, however, records show that in the last 3 months, DCPS has only repaired 24 of its broken school security cameras. This has raised serious questions about how long it will take the district to get the other 313 cameras working again.
In a statement to WUSA9, DC Public Schools wrote:
“DC Public Schools values the safety and well-being of all our students, teachers, and essential building personnel. Our CCTV equipment is just one part of the layered security strategy we utilize in our schools, in conjunction with Security Officers securing our premises, metal detectors that assist with keeping dangerous items from entering our facilities, and other security solutions. We are actively working to replace any worn down or faulty security equipment as we strive to maintain a safe learning and working environment.”
White said part of the problem is that DCPS, the Department of General Services, and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer are all responsible for various repairs within school buildings.
“You end up with a very confusing and convoluted system and important things falling through the cracks,” White said. Additionally, he added that he is working to bring all three agencies together to address the school repair delays.
Washington Teachers Union President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons said the repair delays are contributing to a “severe teacher shortage” and hurting students learning.
“It’s not fair because it changes the working condition for our teachers,” Lyons said. “And we know poor working conditions greatly impacts the learning environment for our students.”
Often those students are in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. More than a third of schools with at least one broken security camera were in Wards 7 and 8.
“The majority of schools that had not been renovated or have not gotten a substantial renovation are in Wards 7 and 8,” White said. “Which means that the most work order issues, the most facility issues that we see are generally in Ward 7 and 8 as well.”
White said the DC Council pumped an extra $50 million dollars into DCPS’s HVAC and Facilities budgets hoping the infusion of cash will speed repairs.
A dashboard that is intended to expand beyond just HVAC work orders and to include all open work orders in public schools was expected to go live on Oct. 1, however, that deadline was missed, according to White.
The goal of this was to increase transparency on when many of the overdue DCPS repairs would be completed.
In a statement to WUSA9, White wrote:
My DC Council colleagues and I worked hard to give the public access to the Department of General Services (DGS) work order system for school maintenance issues so that students and staff know what problems have been reported and when they will be fixed. We set a deadline of October 1, 2022. I’m disappointed that DGS did not meet that deadline.
I get calls and emails almost every day from parents and school staff asking for updates on overdue repairs. That’s why I’ve been fighting so hard to make the work order system public.
The Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, which I chair, worked with DGS last spring to make sure it had funding to start hiring people to implement the dashboard to meet the October 1 deadline.
While the initial deadline has passed, I believe that a significant delay is unacceptable. I will remain in close contact with DGS to make sure the dashboard goes live as soon as possible.
UPDATE: DGS has since made the dashboard live and sent WUSA 9 the following statement on October 4:
The Department of General Services (DGS) has updated the DGS Public Work Order Dashboard so that parents and the education community can have a real-time view of repairs – both opened and closed – that have occurred or is occurring at their school, beyond HVAC needs. Technical difficulties that have been addressed now allows the dashboard to be viewed publicly at this link: DGS Public Work Order Dashboard. The dashboard will update on business days, on a weekly basis.
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