Testimony for April 17, 2013 Council Hearing on School Budget by Committee on Education – by Beth Bacon

Written Testimony of
Elizabeth Bacon
418 7th Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
To the Council of the District of Columbia Committee On Education, 
Councilmember David A. Catania, Chairman
Oversight Hearing on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Budget of the District of Columbia Public Schools
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
10:00 am, Hearing Room 500, John A. Wilson Building, 
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004
Thank you, Chairman Catania, and members of the Education Committee, for convening this important oversight hearing on the DCPS proposed fiscal year 2014 budget for our city’s public schools. I have been a resident of Ward 6 for 14 years. I am a parent of two children; one is a Capitol Hill Cluster School student in second grade at Watkins Elementary. I also live two blocks from Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

I am submitting this testimony today because I am disheartened by the ways DCPS is changing the formula for non-personnel discretionary spending in school budgets. Specifically, I can see the direct impact of the reduced spending and reduced flexibility in non-personnel discretionary spending on my child’s classroom, her classmates, and her elementary school as a whole.

I believe the Council should hold DCPS responsible for the way this change in discretionary spending essentially cuts schools budgets and handicaps them in competing for enrollment.

This new equalization is harmful to DC public schools in three ways:
1.  The “equalization” proposed by DCPS for the 2013-14 school-year budgets does away with much of the flexibility individual schools have had in the past to determine their own spending for support positions and creative programs that are best for that school. At Watkins Elementary, where my daughter attends 2nd grade, losing the flexibility for non-personnel discretionary spending limits the degree to which our teachers can carry out differentiated instruction for the range of learners at our school and therefore meet the needs of all learners.

At Watkins, that spending had been used to support three resource teachers to help with some of our more challenged learners. With the drive to “equalize” school budgets across schools, Watkins will lose these three resource teachers – two reading resource teachers and one math resource teacher.

For Watkins classrooms, that means that the most challenged learners will not have the support of dedicated, trained specialists to help them in reading and math. Instead the burden will fall on the classroom teachers to attend to these children’s intense learning needs, and the social/emotional challenges that as almost always accompany intense learning needs. For my daughter’s teacher, that means he spends less time attending individual student needsof the rest of the class, including my daughter’s higher learning needs.

2.     Equalizing budgets – which essentially removes discretionary spending – is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. DCPS is using equalization to hide cuts to school budgets. DCPS will not admit this, and, in fact, the person appointed by the Chancellor to respond to parent emails protesting the budget cuts, asserts essentially that these are not cuts.

3.     Removing spending flexibility puts public schools at a severe disadvantage in this era where public schools are expected to compete with charter schools for enrollment. Removing flexibility takes away the ability for public schools to build unique programs and differentiate themselves from each other – and charters – at the same time the prevailing wisdom encourages “healthy” competition between schools. DCPS is handicapping the public schools while our public dollars are being used to open and support numerous charters in the city. I find this unconscionable.

I urge the Education Committee to force DCPS to be honest about “equalization.” DCPS should have to be honest about how removing discretionary spending actually reduces schools budgets – and disadvantages public schools next to their neighboring charter schools.

At the Capitol Hill Cluster School, this loss of flexibility in spending flies in the face of all the work we have done to strengthen our academic integrity with a new administrative team, high expectations for student learning, and a strong school community.

Thank you.


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