Glover Park residents are pushing for the Washington, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to renege a contract with a prestigious D.C. private school after pushback from parents of public school students who also utilize the space.
The newly renewed contract, which was first negotiated in 2009, grants the Maret School privileged access to Jelleff Field, a public sports field in Glover Park across from Hardy Middle School, for the next nine years. Maret has had exclusive access to Jelleff during primetime after-school hours since paying into a $2.4 million agreement with DPR in 2009, under the condition that the school would pay to improve Jelleff’s facilities. In response to disagreements over use of field space and field maintenance, an online petition emerged three weeks ago calling for the nullification of a contract renewal between Maret and DPR.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E Commissioners Elizabeth Miller, Kishan Putta and Joe Gibbons met with Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), DPR Director Delano Hunter and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn on Wednesday night to discuss the status of the contract. Bowser called the meeting in response to the petition, according to Putta, which garnered 2,400 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
The $950,000 contract renewal, which extends the agreement for another nine years, has come under fire for pitting private school children’s interests against those of public school children, Putta said.
“We explained that every day over 100 kids in the free Jelleff after-school program can’t play on the reserved field and they have to hang out in the basement instead,” Putta said in an interview with The Hoya. “This deal is a terrible lesson for our children. We should be teaching them that sharing high-demand public resources is important and that all children deserve them.”
At the meeting, Bowser said her office would reconsider the contract, according to Putta.
Maret, which is located away from Glover Park in Woodley Park, argues its partnership with DPR has actually benefited the wider community. Maret deserves credit for improving Jelleff by building new lights, a new pool and new turf since 2009, according to Maret Director of Communications Linda Johnson.
Maret is also attempting to correct misconceptions about the demographics of its school and the students it serves, according to Johnson.
“It’s important to get the facts straight because there’s a lot of misinformation going around,” Johnson said in an interview with The Hoya. “There isn’t just one type of student that goes to our school. One in four of our students receives financial aid. We are committed to equity and our partnerships, and we think Jelleff is one and it is benefiting the city.”
Other parents have claimed that, though the agreement requires Maret to maintain and update the field, the school has not upheld its end of the deal. Martin Welles (LAW ’09), vice president of Hardy’s Parent Teacher Organization and father of three Hardy students, provided The Hoya with a June 2019 report from Leading Design & Development Sports, which tests sports fields for safety standards. The report shows Jelleff Field is out of compliance for shock absorption regulations in the field, important for contact sports.
The report demonstrates that Maret neglected to maintain safety standards for the field; this shortcoming stands as a reason not to extend the agreement, according to Welles.
“Maret was responsible for the upkeep of the field and they let it deteriorate,” Welles wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Parent-teacher organizations at Hardy and other public schools in the area, along with ANC Commissioners from Wards 2 and 3, wrote a letter to D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine asking his office to investigate the now 19-year no-bid contract between Maret and DPR, according to an email obtained by The Hoya.
When the contract was originally negotiated, the city did not have enough funds to renovate Jelleff on its own, leading to the agreement with Maret, according to an email D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) sent to residents of Burleith, which borders Glover Park, on Wednesday.
“DC’s DPR entered into a public-private partnership with Maret that would preserve the field,” Evans wrote in the email. “I approached other schools and entities to partner on the renovations; no one else was interested.”
Maret originally wanted a 20-year contract deal but reached a compromise with DPR, receiving preferred permitting for 10 years first and then an additional 10 if they followed through on improvements to the field. This year, Maret renewed its contract before it was set to expire in June 2020, creating a 19-year agreement.
Maret has invested enough money to earn the second decade, according to Evans.
“A compromise was reached where the city agreed to extend the relationship for an additional 10 years, if Maret delivered on the terms of the contract in the first 10 years,” he wrote. “Maret has lived up to their end of the agreement. When Maret approached DPR to extend the agreement, per the original terms, they offered to invest an additional $1 million in the field, and in improvements to the clubhouse.”
DPR had purchased Jelleff for $20 million from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington in 2010 after the organization fell into financial trouble during the 2008 recession. However, this purchase left no money for renovation, and the city needed an outside contractor to renovate Jelleff on behalf of DPR, according to Evans’ email.
D.C. Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) expressed support for making Jelleff fully public. The council may hold a hearing on the issue soon, according to Putta.
But the children currently prohibited from using the field after school bear the real cost, Putta said.
“For one school to get all of those hours for 10 years was bad enough,” Putta said. “And for them to extend it for another decade is really a slap in the face.”