Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
My name is Joe Weedon. I’m here today as a parent of two students at Maury Elementary School and as a member of the Eliot-Hine MS LSAT. I serve as the Maury PTA’s Middle School Committee Chair and as Maury ES representative on DCPS’s Eliot-Hine Collaboration Team. I am also a member of Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) Title I Committee of Practitioners.
I would like to begin by thanking you for your investment in middle schools in this year’s budget. Parents across the city have waited far too long to see middle school reform move forward. I’d also like to thank DCPS for revisiting, and adjusting, the initial budget allocation made to Maury ES.
FY2015 Budget Process
At community meetings held across the city this spring, Chancellor Henderson promised, repeatedly, that this year’s DCPS budget process would be different. At two events I attended – January 27th for middle school LSATs and February 6th for elementary school LSATs – the Chancellor laid out a timeline for DCPS to announce new initiatives, for school officials to begin planning for the coming year, and for LSATs and parents to be consulted before our final school budgets were submitted to central office. The Chancellor also encouraged those attending these meetings to “dream big” and “envision what you would do with a 10% funding increase.”
Unfortunately, the process was not different and the impact of the Chancellor not following through on promised budget increases was devastating. Deadlines were missed, information about different initiatives was hard to find and often vague. And, the Chancellor’s promise of across the board funding increases was hollow. The impact of these broken promises cannot be understated. At Maury ES, the LSAT had developed a strong plan to utilize new, promised, resources and then was given only 6 days – over a weekend and with a snow day further undermining the ability to meet – to develop an entirely new staffing plan for the school. After promises of new resources, teachers and support staff were given a budget that threatened their jobs, undermining school moral just weeks before DC CAS testing. Parents and community members felt like they had to break promises to beloved staff and that the future of our school was in jeopardy.
While I am a strong supporter of many of the Chancellor’s initiatives, the annual budget process is unnecessarily frustrating and I’m disappointed that Chancellor Henderson, once again, failed to meet the expectations that she set for herself. That said, overall, the FY2015 DCPS budget provides limited new resources across Ward 6 and begins to fulfill promises made in 2010 about supporting our middle schools, implementing the Ward 6 Middle School Plan and creating stable pathways from early education through high school graduation.
Eliot-Hine MS. A Strong Step Forward.
The FY2015 DCPS budget for Eliot-Hine MS is $4,142,708, a $566,405 increase over the FY2014 budget. At this level of funding, the principal and LSAT have created a staffing plan that will allow Eliot-Hine MS to move forward with the implementation of a strong IB Middle Years Programme by providing world language instruction to all students, by continuing to offer innovative courses – including TV/Radio Broadcasting – and by ensuring all students have full year access to English, Math – including Algebra – and other core subjects.
While the community is generally pleased with the overall budget for Eliot-Hine MS, there are still concerns. Over the past year, DCPS and the community has invested in a new collection for the Eliot-Hine library and media center and the library has become a destination for students; however, at current budget allocations Eliot-Hine will not be able to maintain full-time staffing for the library and media center undermining this investment and preventing our students from having access to these resources.
Across the District, only four middle schools failed to receive allocations for full-time librarians – Cardozo MS, Eliot-Hine MS, Johnson MS, and Sousa MS. Each of these schools falls short of a 300 student threshold for receiving a full-time allocation. However, at current and school-projected enrollment levels, Eliot-Hine MS will exceed this 300 student threshold.
Currently, there are 306 students enrolled at Eliot-Hine MS and the school’s October 1 audit counted 292 students. Despite this fact, DCPS estimates that Eliot-Hine’s enrollment will grow by 4 students to reach 275 students next year. Clearly, the DCPS estimate is inaccurate. School leadership currently expects enrollment to reach at least 310 students next year and continue to increase as Eliot-Hine becomes a destination school for Ward 6 students (though concerns about the potential opening of new public charter middle schools could alter these expectations). At the current and community projected enrollment levels, Eliot-Hine would qualify to receive a full allocation for a librarian.
Given that Eliot-Hine’s current enrollment exceeds the 300 student threshold and that school officials expect to exceed that threshold again next year, we ask that you provide the school with an additional 0.5 allocation, or $47,313, to ensure that the Eliot-Hine MS library is adequately staffed.
Maury ES. Concern about Transparency & Changes to Staffing Models.
The Maury ES initial allocation is $3,424,888, $101,351 more than the FY2014 budget allocation. However, this level of funding, due to a projected enrollment increase of 32 students, results in a net loss in funding – approximately a 6% reduction – on a per student basis. This continues a decline in per student funding from $10,173 in SY2012-13 to $9,761 for SY2013-14 to a proposed $9,461 for the upcoming school year, a net loss of $712 per student over two years despite significant cost savings within DCPS from closing schools and increased budgets (two percent in FY2014 and $100 million in FY2015). While the Maury ES budget has shrunk, its student population has grown by 52 students over two years and our test scores have improved dramatically, 29% gains in reading and 19% gains in math in 2013.
Due to an active and engaged PTA which provides generous support to students, teachers and administration, Maury ES is uniquely positioned among DCPS schools to absorb budget cuts and our school community, generally, believes that resources should go to those who need them most. However, the school community is greatly concerned that staffing allocations have not kept pace with the school’s growth. This concerns is demonstrative of the lack of detailed insight, strategic planning, and transparency in the local school budgeting process.
If you compare two schools, Maury ES and Brent ES, both in Ward 6 and with similar student demographics, you see remarkable differences in their initial budget allocations. In short, Brent ES sees an additional $646 per student than Maury ES despite similar enrollments, similar special needs and ELL populations and a lower FARM population. To move forward in creating a strong public school system, DCPS must provide accurate information on staffing models and information on adjustments to per student spending for special needs populations. This will allow school communities to make better informed decisions and to better plan for growth, ensuring that all schools can better plan and make strategic decisions to drive student attainment.
After appealing the Maury ES budget allocation to DCPS, the school community is slated to receive an adjustment to our funding allocation. Maury’s leadership has been informed that the school will gain an additional allocation for a “Related Arts Teacher” (Art/Music/World Language/Physical Education). The new allocation allows for the creation of a staffing plan that will keep the majority of our staffing and programming in place. However, Maury’s total budget allocation still falls well short of the promised 10% increase in funding and, as a result, the school will be unable to fully restore the mental health team and other support positions lost in the FY2014 budget as well as be unable to maintain all programming currently offered while adding new initiatives to further improve math and reading scores across the school. The development of this new staffing plan caused much angst among administration, teachers and parents. And, it was done with little ability to deliberate and collect information from school and community members because of the limited 6 day turnaround required by DCPS.
While the Maury community is pleased with the additional allocation that will allow the school to implement a strong staffing plan for SY2014-15, the community remains disappointed that the Chancellor failed to live up to her promise of changing the way DCPS budgeting is done and failed to provide promised new resources to our school.
I encourage you to reform the DCPS budgeting process to ensure openness and transparency. New initiatives must be announced early in the budget process and their impacts must be clearly communicated to local school communities. Additionally, school communities must receive more time to analyze budgets and prepare staffing options for their schools.
I also encourage you to consider the following reforms to help accomplish our shared goals of moving our public school systems forward.
Updating Staffing Models. DCPS needs to analyze, make changes to, and publicize its staffing models as well as amounts of additional allocations for special needs and FARM populations. The thresholds for staffing allocations for many positions – assistant principals, “Related Arts / Special Subjects” instructors, social workers/psychologists – is vague and often fails to meet the needs of students and school communities. Updated staffing models should be created in concert with national experts and community input and publicized so that individual school communities can know well in advance, based on their enrollment estimates and student demographics, the level of funding that they will receive. Completing this process will also help DCPS predict ideal enrollment size at each school, supporting the Deputy Mayor’s efforts to redraw school boundaries and realign feeder patterns.
Improving Enrollment Estimates. The District of Columbia MUST do a better job of estimating enrollment. School budgets are determined by estimates that often bear no resemblance to actual enrollment numbers which can dramatically shift from year to year as well as within the school year. DCPS should have a mandatory late spring enrollment deadline that will allow schools to adjust staffing models and reallocate staff to meet individual school needs even if this means that students lose their right to attend their neighborhood school because of capacity issues.
Implementing Ward 6 Middle School Plan. In 2010, Chancellor Rhee came to Maury Elementary School to announce the Ward 6 Middle School Plan; Chancellor Henderson endorsed that plan upon being confirmed as chancellor. However, progress in implementing the plan has been unsteady and benchmarks have not been met. Rather than starting from scratch as the Chancellor proposed last fall, I encourage you to revisit this plan, developed with substantial community input, and see that it is updated and fully implemented. I encourage you to ensure that the infusion of resources into our city’s middle schools is not a one-time investment but rather that we continue current levels of support into future years to allow schools to develop programs and attract more students.
Moving Forward with Middle School Renovations. Eliot-Hine MS and Jefferson Academy MS are in desperate need of renovations. The schools lack modern technology and have inadequate lighting and poor acoustics. If Washington, D.C. is to fulfill our promise to ensure all students have great middle schools, as well as promises made in the Ward 6 Middle School Plan, we must accelerate the timelines for moving these renovations forward. The city must ensure the successful launch of a new middle school at Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan, by ensuring it has state of the art facilities and adequate staffing and supplies, as outlined in the Ward 6 middle school plan.
While transparency is a major concern, ultimately, our city’s ability to create more schools of choice will require better planning within DCPS as well as better coordination between DCPS and the public charter schools. While the common lottery is a significant step forward, the lack of mandatory early enrollment deadlines – DCPS students can still show up to their in-bounds school on the first day without being enrolled and regardless of the school’s capacity – and the on-going practice of students transferring mid-year from public charters into DCPS schools will continue to be major obstacles to creating sustainable, high-preforming schools.
I’d also like to thank the Deputy Mayor for moving forward an effort to redraw boundaries and realign feeder patterns. While I have my doubts, personally, that the boundary realignment process will, alone, be successful in helping to create more stable enrollment patterns, I applaud the effort and believe that it is needed.
On behalf of parents at both Maury ES and Eliot-Hine MS, I thank you for your support of our schools. While we were disappointed with the many broken promises made about the budget process being “different,” we are satisfied that we can create staffing plans that will allow us to move forward in our efforts to create a strong pathway from elementary school to Eastern High School.