Testimony of Danica Petroshius
DME Budget Oversight Hearing
April 25, 2019
Thank you for holding this hearing and providing us the opportunity to testify. I am Danica Petroshius, a parent of two DCPS students, a member of our LSAT and PTSO, as well as Co-Vice President of the Ward 6 Public School Parents Organization.
Parents – as Chairman Mendelson said yesterday – are investing in, and I would add entrusting, our children to schools. What parents want as the consumers of our education system are very concrete things: stability, quality, equity, transparency and programmatic diversity. And we believe to achieve that it takes two key things: significant investment and a strong system manager.
The challenge we face now is that we have a system that was designed around reform ideas and not around the interests of parents and students. It has evolved into a system that is fractured, siloed, underinvested and inefficient. And no one is at the helm driving system-wide planning, collaboration, investment and efficiency.
Let me give some clear examples of the continued instability, inequity and lack of transparency that parents feel front and center every time they enter a school or enter the lottery:
- We have an unstable budget system which you all outlined very articulately yesterday that leaves parents who are investing in schools wondering why the system won’t invest at the same relative rate.
- Our unstable budget system is not backed with a laser focus on school improvement. As both Chairman Mendelson and Chairman Grosso alluded to yesterday – stabilization funds aren’t magic beans – they should be backed with concrete strong school improvement strategies and supports that help struggling schools improve and grow enrollment. We have students in those schools now – they deserve our highest attention and effort. And if we give it, enrollment will grow. We do not systematically do that now.
- Instead we open and close across our system – with no system-wide planning. DCPS is opening Bard High School while we have 40 high schools across the city already, some under enrolled, and 20,000 seats across our system that remain open. And just Monday the PCSB heard testimony from 10 new charter applicants, some high schools. I have no knowledge of any individual school’s worth or not. But what I do know is that there is no one at the helm with authority across our entire system saying: wait. Where are we building new schools, and why. Is there a true system needs assessment that shows that there is a unique need for a new school and deep community engagement that says it will grow and be successful? We have parents enrolling in schools one year to find out that they are closing the next. All of this means that our system is – by design – creating inefficiencies with public tax dollars – opening schools next to each other, leaving other areas as school deserts.
- We have a system that is inequitable and inefficient at its core. Where some schools in part of our system are able to fundraise for private foundation or corporate dollars and others are not. Where some school parent groups are able to raise a lot of funds and others are not. This deepens inequity and instability.
- We have a system where only some schools are held to a high standard of transparency. As parents, we are laser focused on our school and its community – wherever that school is in our system. And we are scared when we might choose a school that is not held to open meeting and FOIA standards of transparency. We trust our schools and are strong partners with them – but if there is not transparency, there is not trust. And we must know that when the school fails – or seems to fail in some way whether in services, sexual assault, or other issues – that we as parents can find out the truth and advocate for our child. Right now, only half of our students have that right.
- We have a system that does not coordinate its facilities, enrollment and opening/closing of schools planning and projections across the system. We have a Master Facilities Plan that only looks at part of our system. This leads to incredible inefficiency and runaway proliferation of schools without any care for budget, need, community and accurate enrollment projections.
These are critical elements of our unstable system – but they can be fixed. We have an opportunity to strengthen and stabilize our system to ensure greater and deeper investment in our schools by parents and more success for all of our students. Here are some key actions Council can take to drive a stronger system – many that would require new or stronger action by the Deputy Mayor of Education in some way:
- Stabilize school budgets and invest in school improvement. We need to ensure an adequate budget and that the administration follow the law on all aspect of school funding including stabilization and at-risk. We must also ensure that no school has to make cuts but instead we invest in school improvement.
- Ensure that the entire system is held to high standards of transparency relating to budget, open meetings and FOIA.
- Provide seed funding for the DC Education Research Practice Partnership at $2 million and ensure its high-quality implementation to provide further support for strong school improvement across our entire system.
- Require a system-wide master facility plan and new process that looks at all of our schools, improves enrollment projection accuracy, and has a strict and keen eye to improving quality, health and safety of our current schools and improving the DGS systems for building and maintaining quality school buildings.
- Make efficiency and school improvement a priority in school planning by requiring a new authority and process for system-wide planning for opening and improving schools. It must be grounded in deep needs assessments for what the system needs are, accurate enrollment projections, programmatic offerings and where schools already are or are not. It must also be grounded in deep community engagement and complete transparency.
If we can do this, parents will be more excited than every about our schools – no matter what school their child attends. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.