Your View: Opposition to public-private Jefferson-Houston runs deeper than lack of inclusion


To the editor:

Your editorial of June 2, 2011 suggesting a revival of the public-private partnership proposal to fund a new Jefferson-Houston school dismisses last years school controversy as a simple failure to sufficiently involve community members in the school boards process, and as a result shuffles over the real reasons for the brouhaha (Reconsider a public-private Jefferson-Houston).   
What the Times fails to acknowledge is that the neighborhood uprising was fueled by analysis from the planning department that the partnership would require millions of square feet of new development to generate the developer cash needed to fund a replacement school in our low-rise, historic neighborhood.
The notion that our neighborhood alone was being singled out for mega-development to bootstrap its school did not sell, especially when so few residents have children enrolled in Jefferson-Houston. There also was an unpopular proposal to move the districts administrative staff to the site, adding to the prospect of a traffic and parking nightmare in a community where narrow streets abut railroad tracks. The last straw was hearing that existing open space on the site would probably be sacrificed.   Superintendent Morton Shermans references to rooftop soccer fields didnt play well this is Alexandria, not Singapore.   
Neighbors rightly asked why this community was being positioned as a cash cow for the city while other neighborhoods were treated like sacred cows.  
The Times covered the city budget process this spring without taking an editorial position, even when the city council and school board agreed to fund a new Jefferson-Houston through the capital improvement plan. The appearance of an editorial like this, on the heels of a community meeting, raises questions about whether the Times is looking after taxpayers interests, or being used in a backroom campaign to revive a misguided proposal. Its all the more telling given the Times previous reservations about the public-private partnership expressed in an August 19, 2010 editorial.
Finally, Times reporters missed a critical issue in the spring budget negotiations.  A recent boom in citywide school enrollment has served as the districts principal lever with the city council for capital funds. However, Dr. Sherman and the board gloss over the fact that until Jefferson-Houston routinely makes annual yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, parents retain the right to opt-out and send their children elsewhere.
It remains to be seen whether a new structure at Jefferson-Houston ultimately will do anything to relieve enrollment pressure absent a return to the levels of academic achievement that marked the school up until the late 1990s. With the example of T.C. Williams before them, residents were justified in not selling out their neighborhood and their quality of life in exchange for such a speculative return.