Tag Archives: District of Columbia

Teachers At A D.C. Charter School Want To Try Something New: Unionizing

Source: Martin Austermuhle, WAMU, February 22, 2017
Advocates for public charter schools often argue they’re a better alternative to traditional public schools because charters aren’t weighed down by a central administration, school boards and a unionized workforce. But teachers at one D.C. charter school are now looking to do something that’s commonplace among their colleagues in D.C. Public Schools: form a union.  Teachers at Paul Public Charter School in the Brightwood neighborhood of Northwest D.C. have submitted a petition to the school’s management asking that they be permitted to create a union, the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff. It would be associated with the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers and staff at 229 charter schools in 15 states. If they succeed, it would become the first union in D.C.’s charter sector, which educates close to half of the city’s 90,000 students. Paul converted from a traditional public school to a charter school in 1999. … But any move towards unionization could face a number of challenges, both political and philosophical. Though charter schools are publicly funded, they are exempt from the D.C. law requiring the government to enter collective bargaining agreements with public employees. An organizing effort in 2012 by the Washington Teachers’ Union — which represents teachers in DCPS — fizzled due to legal and political obstacles. A decision last year from the National Labor Relations Board means the teachers’ attempt to unionize will come under the federal law that applies to private sector workers. That gives the school’s management two choices: willingly recognize the teachers’ request for a union, or call an election in which staff would have to vote on whether to unionize. …

Feds cite D.C. charters for high suspension rates, particularly for black students

Source: Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, February 14, 2017

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says suspension and expulsion rates for charters in the capital city are double the national rate and disproportionately high for black students and those with disabilities. … When D.C. charter schools kick students out, they are not allowed to return, the GAO reported. They generally transfer to a traditional public school. … It’s no surprise that the greater suspension and expulsion rates for charter schools fall heavily on black students. From preschool discipline and throughout the criminal justice system, studies have shown that black people are treated more harshly than white people for similar conduct. The GAO “found that the rates of suspension for Black students in D.C. charter schools were about six times higher than the rates for White students and the rates for students with disabilities were almost double the rates for students without disabilities.” …

Read full report.

Life Is Hell for Tenants of Giant D.C. Slumlord Sanford Capital-And Taxpayers are Subsidizing the Company

Source: Alexa Mills and Andrew Giambrone, Washington CityPaper, February 2, 2017

… Mold, vermin, broken refrigerators and toilets, children and elderly living without heat and air conditioning, units open to vagrants no matter how many times tenants complain—these are standard conditions at buildings owned by Sanford Capital, the company that owns G Street Apartments and at least 16 other D.C. properties, amounting to hundreds of units across the city. Sanford Capital has been buying apartment complexes that are home to the city’s working poor for more than a decade. In extensive reporting on the company’s practices, City Paper found that Sanford employs a systematic strategy for allowing buildings to become so squalid that residents are forced to leave. The company also files for evictions in bulk. In some cases, Sanford has rushed to replace the modest rents of the working poor with those of very low-income people who hold government-issued vouchers set at similar or higher rates—the District footing the bulk of the rent bill and ensuring a guaranteed stream of revenue for the company.

… According to D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), Sanford has amassed nearly $150,000 worth of fines since 2009 across 26 addresses.
Many residents in Sanford’s properties receive housing vouchers or other forms of rent assistance that are bankrolled by taxpayers. … D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit against Sanford Capital in October, seeking a court-appointed receiver to oversee a rehabilitation plan for Terrace Manor, a Sanford property in Southeast. Racine is also asking the company to abate housing code violations and for restitution of rents tenants paid while Sanford was illegally neglecting apartments. … In other words, the city is simultaneously enriching and suing Sanford. … Estimating conservatively that vouchers average $1,000—some are more, some are less, and they depend on family income, among other factors—Sanford is being paid about $340,000 a month, or $3.7 million a year, by District and federal programs. … Advocates say Sanford accepts formerly homeless and low-income voucher tenants because the company is guaranteed to make money from them, at least for the duration of the benefits those tenants receive. The District’s rapid rehousing program, for example, helps people move into more stable environments than shelters, but the subsidy is time-limited so some landlords are reluctant to welcome participants. …

Metro halts plans to privatize parking

Source: Max Smith, WTOP, November 18, 2016

Metro has canceled a request for proposals to privatize its parking lots. Documents related to the procurement, dated Thursday, say that Metro must re-evaluate the requirements. When Metro published the initial formal request in September, it hoped to find a way to give a private company the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades in exchange for the rights to collect parking fees. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld included privatizing parking on his list of potential management changes for Metro back in March. Concerns about the proposal included whether there could be a conflict between maximizing parking revenue and maximizing the number of people who take the train rather than joining D.C. area traffic jams.


The Deal That Could Hurt D.C. For 50 Years
Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, September 15, 2016

Public transit in Washington, D.C., is in rough shape. After years of safety issues, including several train collisions, the agency in charge, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), is proposing to cut train service hours. But another proposal may be even more troubling. Two weeks ago, WMATA began taking bids from private companies to operate its parking facilities. In exchange for a big up-front payment to the agency, the winning company would collect fees from people parked at train stations for the next 50 years. … It discourages public transit. In order for the private company to make a profit, parking rates will have to go up — as much as 3% a year, according to WMATA. If it costs more money to park and ride the train, people may look for other ways into the city. We lose control of assets we own. In a similar 75-year deal, Chicago handed over its parking meters in 2008 to banking giant Morgan Stanley for a one-time $1.2 billion payment. But that’s not all it handed over. The city is penalized if they do anything that cuts into Morgan Stanley’s profit, like adding bus or bike lanes. … It’s short-term thinking. The parking facilities currently pull in nearly $50 million a year for WMATA. Privatization would send that money—and more—to a private company instead of the public. In Chicago, Morgan Stanley is on pace to make back its $1.2 billion upfront payment by 2020, with more than 60 years of meter money still to come. …

Metro Seeking Private Contractor to Manage Its Parking Garages; Prices Could Go Up
Source: Scott MacFarlane, NBC Washington, September 3, 2016

Metrorail is preparing to hand over responsibility of its lucrative parking garages to a private contractor, the News4 I-Team has learned. WMATA currently manages 26 parking garages and 30 parking lots among its stations in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Now the agency is seeking bids from companies interested in operating, financing and maintaining the transit system’s parking system. … While WMATA would be giving up the bulk of its parking revenue, the contract would grant money to WMATA. While the amount is unknown, it could exceed WMATA’s current parking revenues. In its proposal to would-be contractors, WMATA suggests the price of “base parking fees” increase 3 percent each year for the duration of the deal. The agency said it would also consider expanding the hours during which parking is charged, to include holidays and late nights. … The bids from private contractors are due by Oct. 28. WMATA is seeking a 50-year agreement with the contractor, according to an agency proposal reviewed by the I-Team. The proposal said it expects to close the deal by next July 1. The contractor would oversee the system’s 59,267 daily parking spaces, 56 parking lots and garages, and 3,445 parking meters. …

DC Water Closes Historic Deal

Source: Kyle Glazier, Bond Buyer, September 29, 2016

The DC Water and Sewer Authority closed on a historic deal Thursday, issuing the nation’s first Environmental Impact Bond (EIB) to fund the initial green infrastructure project in its DC Clean Rivers Project. The $25 million, tax-exempt EIB was sold in a private placement to the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and Calvert Foundation, netting DC Water a 3.43% interest rate that is comparable on a cost of funds basis to its historic cost. The proceeds of the bond will be used to construct green infrastructure to absorb and slow surges of stormwater during periods of heavy rainfall, preventing an overflow of untreated sewage (known as a combined sewer overflow, or CSO) into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers or their tributaries. The green infrastructure includes absorbent materials and gardens that mimic natural rain absorption processes. … The investors will receive interest payments as typical for bondholders. Depending on the results, an additional payment may be due on the bonds’ mandatory tender date of April 1 2021. If runoff reduction is greater than 41.3%, a “tier 1” outcome, the investors will receive from DC Water an “outcome payment” of $3 million. In a tier 2 outcome where runoff reduction is 18.6% or better but less than 41.3%, the investors will be due only their normal principal and interest. In a failed tier 3 outcome where runoff reduction is less than 18.6%, the investors will owe DC Water a “risk share” payment of $3.3 million that the trustee will then factor into future payments. That would net the investors a roughly 0.5% return, and DC Water would abandon green infrastructure for traditional tunnels or “gray” infrastructure. …

Should Metro outsource late-night service to Uber and Lyft?

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, September 23, 2016

As Metro seeks to permanently cancel late-night subway service, officials are looking at alternatives to help curb the impact on riders — and one of those alternatives might be ride-share apps such as Uber and Lyft. … During the meeting, the board voted to approve plans for a public hearing in October on the proposed late-night service cuts. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld is pushing for the  cuts because he believes track workers need more time to perform maintenance and conduct inspections — a view that has been supported by reports from the Federal Transit Administration. … Instead, Goldman explained in an interview Friday, he believes Metro might be able to subsidize travel with ride-share apps, directing late-night Metro riders to wait for pickups at designated pickup spots or at bus stops. Maybe, he said, the companies would be willing to cap their rates for late-night rides near Metro’s existing transit routes, in exchange for free advertising on trains and buses and in stations. … Metro is already considering a potential partnership with Uber and Lyft to help provide paratransit service in an attempt to curb the costs of the expensive MetroAccess program. Boston’s transit system just started a similar program, in which people with disabilities or limited mobility pay the first $2 of each trip, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority covers up to an additional $13 of each fare. …

D.C.’s Social Impact Bond Deal Will Fund Infrastructure

Source: Kyle Glazier, Bond Buyer, September 2, 2016

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority plans a first-of-its kind environmental impact bond using a “pay for success” model to finance infrastructure. Investors would be rewarded based on how effectively the new green infrastructure controls stormwater runoff. The authority’s board Thursday approved a $20 million to $30 million private placement of 30-year bonds to finance two green infrastructure projects, one in the Rock Creek and one in the Potomac River sewershed. The bonds will be social impact bonds, a type of obligation combining a performance contract with a contingent loan in which the investors providing the funding are repaid by the government from budgetary savings and societal benefits generated by successful outcomes. … While the handful of previous U.S. social impact bond issuances have focused on homelessness, public health, and other social issues, the DC Water deal will be the first SIB to finance environmental outcomes, with a portion of the payments to the investor contingent on the effectiveness of green infrastructure in managing storm water runoff. …

The Mysterious Private Police Force That’s Killing People In The Nation’s Capital

Source: Carimah Townes, ThinkProgress, August 31, 2016

Beyond DC, a handful of cities and states contract with security companies to employ special police officers who face far less scrutiny than traditional law enforcement, even though they operate almost identically. These companies establish their own standards and procedures, disciplinary measures, and managerial discretion. … Today, D.C. has 120 private companies that employ 16,580 law enforcement agents: 7,720 special officers along with 8,860 guards, stationed at apartment buildings, colleges, commercial buildings, and hospitals, compared to approximately 3,700 MPD officers in the city. Some are stationed in D.C. government buildings, including the Wilson Building, where the mayor and city council member’s offices are located. And 4,523 of those special officers are armed. … A General Order released by the MPD in 1993 says special officers function much like MPD officers in that they have the power to make arrests and carry firearms — privileges that private security guards aren’t afforded. Special officers are also allowed to use force on the properties they’re employed to oversee. … Beyond the high-profile cases, however, information about special officers’ use of force throughout the city is extremely limited. What little information is available paints a picture of an unaccountable body of agents that frequently uses abusive tactics.


Editorial: When death comes at the hands of private security guards
Source: Washington Post, December 21, 2015

IN SEPTEMBER, a 57-year-old man allegedly wielding a knife was fatally shot by a private security guard in Union Station. In October, a 74-year-old patient at MedStar Washington Hospital Center died two days after a clash with private security guards. And last month, a 27-year-old man died after he was restrained by security guards at a Southeast apartment building. It will be up to police and prosecutors to determine if there was criminal culpability in any of the cases, but the fact of these three deaths in three months demands that D.C. officials take a serious look at how they regulate the private police forces that help patrol the city. … So the inevitable question is whether the training required and received by private security officers is sufficient. According to city officials, there are nearly 17,000 private security officers (special police and general security) affiliated with 122 security companies who staff housing projects, hospitals and other properties in the District. Some carry weapons and can make arrests after undergoing certification by the police department. Training is conducted by a third-party vendor …

Second DC Metro contractor charged with sexual assault

Source: Melanie Zanona, The Hill, August 11, 2016

A second van driver who was contracted by Washington’s transit authority has been charged with the sexual assault of a disabled passenger this week. Police in Fairfax County, a Virginia suburb of Washington, announced Thursday that Jose G. Pino Estrada of Alexandria has been arrested Tuesday for allegedly raping a 51-year-old woman. Estrada, 35, works for Diamond Transportation, which provides services for MetroAccess, a door-to-door service for elderly or disabled people who cannot use the Metro bus or rail systems. … The charges follow a separate arrest this week, in which a driver working for a different company contracted by Metro was accused of sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled passenger in the back of a MetroAccess van. …


MetroAccess Driver Accused of Sexually Assaulting Passenger
Source: Matthew Stabley, NBC 4, April 25, 2013

Metro Transit Police arrested a MetroAccess driver on a first-degree sexual assault charge Wednesday…. Porter works for MV Transportation, which provides MetroAccess service. Metro requires the company to perform background checks on employees who provide MetroAccess service. A check by News4 shows that Porter plead guilty in 2008 to driving on a suspended license and was put on probation. After its contract ends in June, MV Transportation will only operate a call center as part of a change in business model, Metro’s Dan Stessel said. Three other companies will operate the service, hiring drivers and providing maintenance. In 2010, MV Transportation launched an independent investigation into its hiring and training practices after four drivers were accused of sexually assaulting passengers.

Transparency Advocates Unsuccessful As D.C. Council Adds Only Small Changes In New Charter School Legislation

Source: DC Open Government Coalition, August 2016

Legislation to shore up oversight of charter schools’ finances went quietly through the D.C. Council this June, though without requirements for the schools to follow open meetings and public records laws as advocates urged at the bill’s public hearing almost a year ago. The District’s 115 charter schools, enrolling 45 percent of the District’s students at a cost this coming year of over $720 million District tax dollars, are overseen not by the mayor or D.C. Council but by an independent “charter authorizer” called the Public Charter School Board (PCSB). Financial scandals at several schools in 2013-2014 led to the legislative proposal to give the PCSB more tools for overseeing schools’ major outside contracts and board members’ conflicts of interest. … The charter board supported the narrow legislation introduced early in 2015 but not the advocates’ request to bring charters fully under the existing District laws requiring access to meetings and records. School staffs threatened damage to their education mission if such transparency produced a crush of burdensome requests, though actually the Charter School Board received only 40 records requests in the latest full year 2014-15.  The Council unanimously voted June 28 for the “Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act” (Bill B21-115) and the mayor signed it into law June 21 as Act A21-465.  It will take effect after it’s sent to Capitol Hill and waits for the review period of 30 congressional workdays. …


D.C. bill aims to increase fiscal oversight of charter schools
Source: Michael Alison Chandler, The Washington Post, October 14, 2015

Education advocates and charter leaders debated at a hearing Wednesday legislation that would give the D.C. Public Charter School Board greater authority to see financial records of private management organizations. … The law, first introduced in March, would give the city’s charter board the ability to request financial records from private companies that receive 10 percent or more of a public charter school’s annual revenue or that derive at least a quarter of total revenue from a charter school. Such management companies sometimes contract with charter schools to handle administrative functions. The legislation is a response to two lawsuits in recent years alleging that D.C. charter school leaders created private management companies in part to divert millions of taxpayer dollars from schools for personal gain. …