DC Public Schools Budget Testimony:
Laura Fuchs, Teacher, HD Woodson HS, Chair of the Washington Teacher’s Union’s Committee on Political Education, WTU Recording Secretary, Executive Board Member of Ward 7 Education Council, Executive Board Member of Empower DC and member of LSAT of HD Woodson HS, Ward 5 Resident
Delivered: Tuesday, October 29, 2019
My name is Laura Fuchs, and I am in my 13th year teaching at HD Woodson SHS. Today I would like to focus on highlighting the budget where it concerns serving the needs of our Special Education students. Because our schools are budgeted based on projected enrollment we know that the system will not be perfect. The students we serve in Ward 7 are highly mobile and are often going through a lot that can cause them to move from school to school. This year our school is already over 67 students beyond our overall projected enrollment, and our special education population appears to have a similar percentage over-enrolled. When it comes to special education the challenges deepen because we also do not know in advance what programs nor how many hours of services our students will need in order to fulfill their IEPs. This year HD Woodson has seen a noticeable uptick in the total number of hours required on the IEPs (i.e., we usually used to see 10 hours and now are seeing 15).
We accept that DCPS cannot predict with 100% accuracy who will walk through the doors in August each year. But DCPS needs to be better prepared and more flexible to guarantee that our schools will have the teachers, services, and personnel required to meet the IEPs of our students when they do arrive. To that end, I want to suggest that we end the practice of “Mutual Consent” that Michelle Rhee bargained for in 2009. If we allow excessed teachers, who have good evaluation scores, to stay in a “pool” of available teachers, they can then be placed at a school immediately when a need arises. Currently the system severs them from the system if they don’t find a job at the end of the summer, making them unavailable to hire at all! Then, if a school has more students than they predicted, or the students have more hours, or we need an additional staff member for a particular program, that need can be met as fast as possible so our students don’t get negatively affected. On top of that, if we run out of teachers from that pool we can then pull from existing central office staff, who should be required to keep up their teaching licensure, so that they are serving kids directly rather than doing who knows what in an over-bloated administrative black hole.
Next we need to bring back the Special Education Coordinator to the Comprehensive Staffing Model funding formula for any school that has over a certain percentage and/or number of special education students. I won’t claim to be the expert on what the threshold should fairly be, but the fact is that a school like HD Woodson, where close to 30% of the population on any given year is receiving special education services, a Special Education Coordinator is not optional staffing. We do not receive enough discretionary funds to afford it, and we lost our position in this past year. That is not acceptable.
Furthermore, DCPS needs to better indicate what funds are Special Education funds and can only be spent in that department both as incoming funds and then as how we spend them. It should be broken down clearly how those funds were calculated, what programs they are to be used for, etcetera, so that our teachers and coordinator can verify that they are correct. Having served in LSATs for the past 10 years, I can attest that it is often very confusing as to where the money is coming from and if we are correctly spending it, and that often appears to lead to our school not getting adequate general funds and then compensating for them with special education funds, like what was happening with At-Risk Funds. This is a potential massive lawsuit that could be avoided with increased transparency and training for our LSATs.
When it comes to calculating what funds our local schools should get they should be based on special education teachers automatically getting 2 planning periods per day – one for academic planning and one for case management. Caseloads should be based on the amount of hours and work it will take to service the IEP, not simply total number of students, it should be made clear how that is being calculated so that our school can use them appropriately. DCPS should work with our teams in advance to learn how difficult it can be to service all our students and then staff and fund the programs appropriately so that we are set up to be successful.
It is our moral duty to service our students with special education needs. We must set up our schools to be successful but adequately funding and staffing them. Anything less is unacceptable.