Danica Petroshius Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Hearing – April 14 2016




April 14, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am Danica Petroshius, a Ward 6 resident and a parent of two at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan. Our school is PK through 6th in one building and a middle school in a trailer, and our families come from every Ward. We love this school – the teachers, the principal, the parent community and the Montessori approach.

But once you look beyond the school community, we don’t like what we see. We see a city that has punted our modernization from 2014 to 2017 to 2019 – and now indefinitely. We see a city that cannot provide accurate, full data about our school. We see a city willing to leave schools untouched for too many years.

Enough is enough. We have been told by a few senior members of the government that there is a chance of retribution from the system when parents speak out. That’s wrong. Fear is no way to run a city. We look all our city leaders in the eye and say: hear us and work with us. We have an opportunity now to change the dialogue from one of fear and behind-closed-doors decision-making to one of transparency, accurate data and full investment.

Chairman Grosso, we applaud your call last year to bring a data-driven approach to modernization. We were thrilled to hear that the Mayor would have a transparent modernization process and use data to make the decisions. On approach, we are all aligned.

But the approach breaks down when you look at process and data. There is no record of the data collection used for the building assessments. If it was DGS data, their data shows that our school has never been assessed. It was suggested to us that the Mayor got her own data instead by touring schools. But we’ve never seen that data and we have no idea if it’s accurate. Were modernization experts with her? Were principals who know their buildings best asked to help identify the school’s needs? Was our school included?

In addition, DGS found lead in our water last year without notifying us. We found out from a blog article. Now, DGS cannot provide the data showing that our school is 100% remediated of lead. Whether it’s the building or lead in the water, if we can’t get comprehensive and accurate data, then the entire process fails.

The approach further breaks down when even the metrics to rank schools are faulty and inconsistent. For example, our middle school did not receive a priority like other middle schools. But in deciding our capacity rating, it appears our trailer that houses the middle school was counted which means that they do know that we are a middle school. Some have argued that we are an education campus not a middle school. This bureaucratic distinction between an education campus and a middle school doesn’t change the fact that we have kids who are in middle school in a separate trailer. Do you want to tell our 7th and 8th graders that they are not in middle school?

We’ve given you the charts that show the data is faulty and missing. The process and data systems used to create this proposed modernization plan are broken.

Finally, the system fails on investment. Parents and many on council fought hard to take us from cuts in school modernization last year to increases this year. But it’s not yet a job well done. We can find money for every school and modernize them over the next 5 years. No one believes we have an economic crisis in DC. We are leading other cities in economic growth at 3-4% a year. We have a cash reserve of over $700 million. You can’t throw a stone in this city without hitting a crane that is building more condominiums and more restaurants. And we now are spending $50 million on a practice stadium for a professional basketball team whose owner is worth billions. The city should reprioritize and fund the must-have’s–safe strong schools –first. Only then should they fund the “nice-to-have’s.”

Today, I ask each Councilmember to stand with us and stop the budget process from moving forward until three tests are met:

  1. There is full, accurate and fully transparent data for every school.
  2. The metrics for ranking school modernization include that data and priorities are applied consistently across every school.
  3. There is funding over the next 5 years to fund every school’s modernization needs.

We have attached a letter from over 230 parents in our school calling for a better solution. We welcome parents from other schools to join us. We welcome the ability to work with the Council and city agencies on a solution. The city has set very high learning standards for our children – standards that we as parents help our kids and teachers meet every day. It’s time for the city leadership to set their standards high too.

Thank you.


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