In this week’s Current newspaper, there is an op-ed by Ward 3 resident (and former DC Council candidate) Matt Frumin arguing for a complicated land swap deal involving the old Hardy School on Foxhall (not Hardy Middle School on Wisconsin), the Lab School–which occupies it–and the lower school of the Georgetown Day School.
GDS is planning on consolidating its lower school with its upper school in a new building on upper Wisconsin Ave. near Tennleytown. And the Lab School, which leases the Hardy School from DC, has been unable to obtain a longterm deal from the city and is consequentially unwilling to sink much money in the old building. Frumin sees this an an opportunity. He suggests that the Lab School should take over the old GDS space on MacArthur Blvd. and for the city to reopen an elementary school in the Hardy building.
GM has no idea what sort of package the city would have to put together to encourage this move, but GM is sure of one thing: it makes no sense to reopen the Hardy school as a new elementary school.
Frumin cites overcrowding at the Key School as justification for the creation of a new school. And he’s right, Key (located in the west Palisades) is overcrowded with 383 children attending a school with a capacity of 360. But if the children were split into two schools, there would only be 191 children per school. DCPS will not accept schools that small. Only two elementary schools in DC have fewer than 200 children, and if DCPS had its druthers, those would probably wouldn’t be open either. It was only because Georgetown’s Hyde-Addison grew its population substantially that it avoided closing years ago.
That’s because each school has a certain amount of fixed costs that can’t be scaled down for a small population. Whether it’s salaries for the principal or music teacher, etc., or just the cost of running the physical plant, it’s expensive to keep a school open and up to modern standards. Going through all that to only educate a single class per grade is not efficient. This is why the average capacity for elementary school buildings in DC is 430.
(And no, the space couldn’t just be filled in with more out-of-boundary children. The building only has a capacity of 200.)
And Frumin should know this because he served on the commission that was created to redraw the school boundaries last year. And he should also know that the commission came up with a way to relieve crowding at Key School: transfer children from Foxhall Village and east Palisades to Hyde. But the residents of the affected neighborhood didn’t want to switch to Hyde. They argued that they didn’t want to travel that far. (For the record, the distance from the Hardy building to Hyde is 1.5 miles. It’s 1.6 miles to Key.) They also argued that they didn’t want to deal with Georgetown traffic (surely no one from the Palisades drives to work through Georgetown…)
So the commission that Frumin sat on decided to pull back on the proposal and keep the Foxhall neighborhood in the Key boundary.
Yes, all things being equal it would be better for every child to live within a five minute walk from their school. But that only works when you’ve got a population density high enough to support a school within that catchment area. And the Palisades doesn’t have that, particularly given the number of families there that choose private schools instead.
So if Foxhall wants to have its own elementary school, it needs to have the density to justify it. And the best opportunity to do that would be to let the GDS campus be converted to residential. With that, and maybe more growth, then we could talk about expanding the old Hardy building to an acceptable capacity and reopening it as an elementary school.
And if overcrowding at Key is still a problem, either add capacity there or revisit the boundary issue.