DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Suzanna Dennis, Payne ES

Good morning.  My name is Suzanna Dennis, and I have a daughter in the PK-3 program at Daniel A. Payne Elementary School on Capitol Hill.  Before I begin, I want to thank the Council, Mayor & DCPS for their time and continued support this year.


1. Overview

In the past year I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience as a parent at Payne Elementary.  The teachers, administration, and Principal are fully committed to providing a healthy learning environment.


As you know, Payne fills a unique need on Capitol Hill.  It currently serves 272 students, and enrollment is projected to grow.  Payne is known for its strong leadership; its high quality early childhood curriculum; its program integrating children with hearing impairments with hearing students; its special education services, including a program for children with emotional behavioral disabilities; and as the neighborhood school for children from the DC General Families Shelter.


There is growing PTA, as well as a committed group of prospective parents, neighbors and business owners allied to support the school through the Friends of Payne.  We’re continuing to grow that support through various initiatives, including expanding the school garden program this spring.



2. Budget

As you know, the school has been planning for Phase I of its long-needed and anticipated modernization this summer.  In February/March we had a great showing of school and broader community support to make sure Payne’s renovation goes ahead as planned.  Earlier this month the Mayor’s office submitted to the Council a reprogramming that meets two important goals.  First, it substantially increases Payne’s total capital budget by approximately thirty percent.  Second, it accelerates the renovation schedule by allocating all of the capital dollars in FY14, presumably with the expectation that the whole project will be completed this fiscal year between June and August.  It is my understanding that this new budget fully meets the school’s modernization needs.


Payne now has the exciting challenge of planning an $18 million renovation for all three Phases in the next two months, and executing that plan over the summer.  I remain hopeful that officials will be able to plan for and expend the entire $18 million budget prior to the end of this fiscal year.  Given the ambitious timing and size of the reprogramming, this will be a challenge, but a welcome one given the long standing and extensive capital renovation needs at Payne Elementary.


The Payne community stands committed to providing whatever planning and other support is needed to ensure that the project is completed on schedule.  We ask that the Council, through its oversight role, assist us in this effort.

Payne’s proposed operating budget for 2015 is $3.851 million.  This amount will pay for teachers—including early childhood and special education—the school’s leadership and administrative support, after school and library programs, and facility costs.


3. Closing

I am proud to send my daughter to Payne Elementary.  As a parent, a member of the PTSA, and the Friends of Payne, I look forward to working with the Council to support the great efforts already underway.  These efforts will build on Payne’s historic legacy to make Payne one of Capitol Hill’s most sought after schools.  Much needed improvements to the facility will make a big difference in the academic experience of its students and in the overall success of the school.


Since Payne serves some of the city’s most vulnerable elementary students, the Council’s continued dedication to improving neighborhood safety and community services–such as the families’ shelter–will also help bolster children’s learning experience at Payne.


I want to thank the Council again for their time and their continuing support of Payne Elementary.   We look forward to keeping this Committee apprised of our efforts, including the progress with the modernization.



Testimony before DC Council Committee on Education, Budget Hearing

Suzanna Dennis/Payne Elementary





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