OFFICE OF PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
Public Hearing on the District of Columbia School Reform Property Disposition Clarification Amendment Act of 2007
Testimony of Robin-Eve Jasper
Office of Property Management
Adrian M. Fenty
COUNCIL OF THE DISTICT OF COLUMBIA
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
The Honorable Vincent C. Gray, Chairman
Monday, March 17, 2008
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004-3003
Good morning Chairman Gray, Councilmember Catania and members of the Committee of the Whole. I am Robin-Eve Jasper, Acting Director of the Office of Property Management (OPM). I am here today to discuss Bill 17-0217, the District of Columbia School Reform Property Disposition Clarification Amendment Act of 2007.
As stewards of the District’s property inventory, OPM is charged with maximizing the benefit that our government facilities can bring to their surrounding neighborhood. It is clear from this legislation that the Council shares our appreciation for the benefits that youth service and education organizations bring to our communities. The tenor of this legislation aims to provide charter schools and these organizations the right of first offer to acquire vacant school property. To this point, we would like to address several aspects of the bill before the Council.
As with any effectively operating organization, performance matters. This is of particular significance when there will be an impact on District communities. To ensure the best and fair use of our vacant school facilities, we must guarantee that the District government is able to deliver the best service to its citizens. There are two requirements that allow the District to achieve this: providing performance measures that maximize output to the community; and the ability to negotiate with a wide variety of potential occupants.
At the heart of this legislation is the question of what is the best community good that can come from the use of vacant school property. And while we are currently negotiating final elements of a lease with Community Academy Public Charter School and are waiting for a termsheet from ARE we are concerned with the other properties that maybe within sweep of this new law.
The legislation directs the right of first offer to be given to charter schools or organizations that provide youth or education services to the community. However, the only measure of appropriateness for determining a tenant’s continued use of the property, as listed under section (b) subsection (II), is whether or not the current tenant is “in good standing on its existing lease agreement.” While this serves as an important factor in determining whether or not a group should occupy a facility, it is important to ask if it is the only criteria that should be considered. When evaluating current or potential tenants, it is important to consider factors that go beyond whether or not rent is paid on time, but that look at the service that group brings to the community. By incorporating qualitative measures into the evaluation process, the District can ensure that communities will be receiving an organization that will provide them with highest level of service for the tenure of the lease period. If the District finds that an organization does not provide a promised service, or if the District determines that the facility can benefit the community more in a different way, it should be able then to find another group to occupy the available space.
One of the principal goals of the Fenty Administration has been accountability. This is recognized within the government through initiatives like the Mayor’s CapStat sessions and it exists in public charter schools as well, where schools chartered by the District agree to adhere to a specific set of guidelines for performance. However, other organizations that occupy school space may not be governed by similar standards. Thus, if the District were to create a legislative standard to award a property to a community group and it did not have performance standards incorporated into its lease agreement; the District would be limited in its ability to connect the tenant’s service delivery to the use of the facility.
A second important consideration is the range of parties with which the District will be able to negotiate services with under the legislation. By restricting which organizations will be able to apply to occupy a vacant school to those described in section (b) of the legislation, the District’s ability to negotiate leases with potential occupants is significantly narrowed. A regulation such as this may preclude other qualified organizations that may offer an improved or desired service from applying to occupy a school facility. In effect, the legislation pre-empts the Administration’s authority and responsibility to determine the best use of a government facility and to identify, negotiate with, and execute a lease agreement with the best-qualified tenant applicant.
Currently, OPM and the Office of the Attorney General are working to promulgate rules that will govern the disposition of school property in the District. These rules will serve as a general framework for leasing school facilities to public charter schools and other organizations and will incorporate performance guidelines for any organization that wishes to occupy these facilities. The rulemaking process will incorporate community input gathered during a public comment period that will occur prior to implementation. We believe this is a more prudent approach to meeting the objective of the Council to ensure that there are guidelines around leasing school facilities to charter schools and education-related organizations.
OPM supports the intent of leasing vacant school facilities to organizations that offer educational services to District residents. However, we believe that this is best achieved through sound administrative rules and practice, rather than legislation, in order to avoid the unintended consequence of unnecessarily restricting the District’s ability to utilize its school facility inventory. OPM recommends that the Council continue to allow the District a broad ability to negotiate with current and future tenants at these facilities within a transparent, consistent framework that reflects the District’s policy priorities. When these measures are in place, we can ensure that the District is providing its citizens with services that will continue to deliver to their communities.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify. I welcome any questions you have at this time.