Testimony of Rebecca Reina
to DC Council, Committee on Education, Performance Oversight Hearing
DC Public Schools
on 2/26/19 at 12:00 pm, John A. Wilson building, room 500
Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council advocates for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while making sure we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both educational sectors.
I am also the mother of 2 Cleveland Elementary School students, where I have in the past served on the PTA and LSAT. Thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback on the performance of DC Public Schools. I want to preface my critique by saying I think all DCPS employees are striving to educate and support DC students. I have been very happy with my children’s direct classroom experience and I am proud to send them to a DC Public School. My critique is focused on DCPS as an institution. I have found DCPS Central Office employees to be smart and exceptionally hardworking; yet, the negative institutional and systemic pressures on them are often insurmountable.
Sometimes, I feel like DCPS is changing for the better: the creation of the Ward 1 Education Council was warmly received by DCPS and since our formation in January, we have already had some productive conversations on how our Education Council and DCPS can work together. However, I have also been disheartened by DCPS’s sometimes opaque decision making, poor communication, and tardiness in addressing urgent problems.
The W1EdCouncil is deeply concerned that the planning leading up to and underlying justification for the announced move of Banneker HIgh School has not been discussed publicly. While the decision appears to have been made solely by Mayor Bowser, DCPS employees have struggled – often ineffectively in multiple public meetings – to address public concerns, choosing instead to silo various stakeholder communities, pitting neighbors against each other due to perceived scarcity. After looking at the proposed Educational Specification for the new Banneker building, I am concerned that the Banneker community is not being afforded the robust planning process, focused on the school’s uniques needs, that has been afforded to other DCPS application high school such as School Without Walls. Banneker not only deserves a beautiful building on time, but also deserves the attention of thoughtful planning in collaboration with its community.
I see similar deficits in the school budgets that were released last week, many weeks late, leaving very little time to engage stakeholders. Teacher raises are well deserved. They should have been properly funded to protect the buying power within school budgets. The decision to imbedded the cost of security into individual school budgets is a laudable move toward transparency, but in some cases it obfuscates large cuts to individual schools. In Ward 1, H.D. Cooke, Cleveland, and Tubman all face substantial cuts. These three schools also have some of the largest percentages of At-Risk students in Ward 1: with H.D. Cooke at 49%, Cleveland at 61%, and Tubman at 65%. In the case of Tubman, the funding cut is initially hidden when looking at the proposed budget because the “increase” in year over year allocation is entirely swallowed by security costs, leaving a proposed deficit of over $65,000. The Comprehensive School Model of budgeting hides even more cuts, because school leaders have so few real chances to reallocate money from one category to another. If Tubman decides not to use its allocated money for the library books they don’t need, they lose $10,000; they cannot reprogram the money to other uses. Outside of Ward 1, the cuts to comprehensive high schools across the river are truly horrifying: H.D. Woodson, Anacostia, and Ballou High Schools appears to face cuts in the $100,000s according to their public allocations, perhaps even a million dollars in the case of Ballou when security costs are included. These budgets are being justified by unrealistic enrollment projections for schools that receive new students through the school year. These budget games do not serve our students. The schools facing the worst budget cuts should not be the schools with the most needs. Even the schools with large raises now need to fear that the tap dries up next year and they are faced with losing staffers they brought on only a year before. Students need stability. Budgets that swing wildly year to year, forcing teacher and staff turnover and constant programmatic changes need to stop.
I am similarly concerned that DCPS employees continue to tell the MidCity community that there are enough DCPS seats at the middle school level. Planning for by-right, neighborhood middle and high schools feels particularly pressing for Ward 1, because of increasing evidence that our neighboring schools of MacFarland and School Without Walls at Francis Stevens will be over-enrolled in the near future, in addition to the ongoing overcrowding in the Wilson High School feeder pattern. DCPS is holding well-run community meetings on these issues, but outreach and advertising of these meetings to parents has been lacking and the data that is being presented there does not match reality. In the 2017-2018 school year, over 1,600 students were enrolled in middle school grades in the area in and surrounding the Cardozo feeder pattern, and yet DCPS says it is satisfied with the status quo, with only 147 students in middle school at Cardozo that same school year. Charter schools can and do close without warning. Also in Ward 1, 294 Cesar Chavez Prep students are now looking for places to land; DCPS is the educational sector legally required to catch them if their families so chose. DCPS needs to welcome them and generally focus greater attention on the middle grades in the middle of the city.
I will end on a bright spot: DCPS listened to advocates and allocated money for better school technology. The perfect follow up would be a comprehensive plan that supports not only laptops for testing but also continuing classroom use even during testing of a computers, laptops, tablets, headphones, and SMART boards and maintenance of all these devices. I look forward to seeing that from DCPS soon.
Thank you again for this opportunity.