Joint testimony of
Rebecca Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council and
Emily Gasoi, State Board of Education, Ward 1 Representative
to the District of Columbus Public Schools Public Budget Hearing
Maury Elementary School
Tuesday, October, 29, 2019
I am Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council is a volunteer organization that brings together parents, educators, students, and community members to share information and to advocate for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while ensuring we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both public educational sectors. Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the DCPS budget. I am sharing this testimony with Emily Gasoi, the Ward 1 Representative on the State Board of Education. She will take up where I end today.
DCPS schools in Ward 1, like DCPS schools throughout the city, are struggling with their yearly budgets:
At the Ward 1 Education Council meeting in March, we asked for a show of hands from DCPS stakeholders whose schools were losing one or more staff position due to inadequate funding in their SY19-20 budget. Reps from ten of the twelve DCPS schools in attendance raised their hands (not all of them Ward 1 schools).
Cleveland, a Title 1 elementary school serving 310 students, 21% ELL and 51% At-Risk, does not have a general reading interventionist and has only two special education teachers to serve the entire school.
H.D. Cooke, a Title 1 elementary school serving 395 students, 46% ELL and 58% At-Risk, struggles to provide appropriate supports for its many English Language Learners.
Tubman, a Title 1 elementary school serving 566 students, 53% ELL and 63% At-Risk, lost eight positions going into this school year, despite an enrollment increase. Tubman was projected to have 534 students this fall and funded for that level, although enrollment has not been under 550 in years.
Bancroft ES was unable to cover the cost for two early childhood intervention staff positions in their initial budget. Bancroft is a Dual-Language school serving 550 students, 56% ELL and 35% At Risk.
CHEC, one of the largest schools in the city and a Title 1 educational campus serving 1,210 students, 35% ELL and 65% At Risk, sees its per-pupil funding go down each year. A CHEC staffer emailed: “If we can’t right-size our budget, we are looking at cutting 2 staff members and we won’t be able to hire the social worker and other essential support staff we so desperately need.” He went on to explain that this will mean increasing class sizes for ELL students who need more, not less individualized attention. This will mean that the school’s one middle school social worker who last year was managing 7+ homeless referrals, 40 PGT referrals, 15 504 cases, 21 IEP cases and has administered 80 special education eligibility assessments, will continue to be stretched dangerously thin. And it will mean that some of our city’s most vulnerable students will continue to have referral wait times of 8 to 10 weeks to see a school-based therapist.
Cardozo EC, a 6th through 12th grade campus of 757 students, 44% ELL and 83% At-Risk, must figure out how to staff multiple, distinct programs with largely inflexible budgeting, while their International Academy student population falls precipitously – which is no surprise given the current national climate – and its 9th and 10th grade mainstream classes simultaneously swell.
Schools struggle with their operating budgets as well:
The Cardozo community alerted us to the fact that all DCPS schools must deal with a purchasing freeze period lasting over a month from late September to early November every year. While the budget office’s reasons vary yearly – this year it is Central Office staffing – the yearly Student Activities Fund and P Card freeze and the budget office’s unresponsiveness does not vary.
School facilities maintenance is inadequate:
Tubman has been waiting for an HVAC renovation and roof repair for three years.
Although Cardozo’s building is managed by RDW Consulting, neither DGS nor RDW responds to maintenance requests in a timely manner. Door locks and elevators remain broken.
Playground repairs requested by Cleveland last school year remain unfinished.
Lead abatement of pour-in-place playground surfaces remain unresolved throughout the city.
Holes remain in the Capital Improvements Plan:
Washington Metropolitan, the last unmodernized DCPS high school, has been dropped from the CIP without clarity on the future of that program.
Anna Beers Elementary School in Ward 7 is not in the Capital budget.
An additional Ward 7 middle school needs to be opened to feed Woodson HS and strengthen that feeder pattern.
Shaw Middle School at 800 Euclid St NW, needs to be added to the CIP to strengthen the Cardozo feeder pattern, improve DCPS middle grade programming, and continue the very strong DCPS enrollment gains in Ward 4 and alleviate crowding and impending crowding surrounding Ward 1 at Deal, Hardy, School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, and MacFarland Middle Schools.
Additionally, the Banneker HS modernization should not include a football field. That school and neighborhood communities both far prefer a track.
Emily Gasoi will provide suggestions to these issues when she finishes this testimony. Thank you.
My name is Emily Gasoi and I am the Ward 1 Representative on the State Board of Education. As W1EC chair Becky Reina explained, I will pick up our testimony where she left off to discuss some of the broader issues underlying individual school struggles and to offer some solutions:
To start, there are several now predictable practices that cause general budget instability for our schools, making it difficult for them to invest the time and thought that budgeting decisions require.
- Last school year’s late release of school budgets and the unreasonably short turnaround time schools had to return them was not conducive to thoughtful decision-making for any leadership team. But especially for schools with budgets that do not adequately cover costs, having to rush decisions about which positions to cut is detrimental to student learning and to the morale of the entire school community. Of course, a greater effort should be made to get budgets to schools on time. But when they are late, school leaders have advised me that they need a minimum of two weeks to fully review them with their teams and make the best decisions for their school communities.
- That said, schools might not need as much time to turn their budgets around if the budgeting process were more stable and predictable. Starting from zero each year while relying on imperfect enrollment projection methods has led to an unhealthy level of instability for schools. The city school count day is in October, even as there is predictable student mobility, mostly from Charters to DCPS schools, throughout the school year. This handcuffs DCPS’s systemwide budget from the city, inadequately providing for our schools of right, but it need not be directly reflected in DCPS individual school budgets. We recommend using different enrollment projections can be used for different purposes and the internal enrollment projections used to fund our schools of right must be improved.
- While all types of schools are impacted by such budget instability, as Becky pointed out in her testimony about CHEC and several of our elementaries serving fewer than 500 students the CSM is most predictably harmful to our largest and smallest schools. In fact, we have learned that one of the few things that large schools like CHEC and small schools like Cleveland ES can count on when it comes to their annual budgets is that funding will not adequately cover their basic staffing costs. This predictable inadequacy in our budgeting process needs to be addressed.
We know DCPS is evaluating whether to move away from the CSM. Before we throw out this admittedly imperfect funding model, we should first try to fully fund our DCPS schools, which would include taking some of the following steps:
- The UPSFF should be raised to keep pace with rising costs, in line with the city’s past adequacy study, which according to DC FPI would require an 8% increase.
- At minimum, the CSM should be followed, with each school receiving the promised baseline, and it should be retooled to provide differentiated supports for our largest and smallest schools.
- At-Risk funds should supplement funds for core school functions, not be used to supplant them.
- Stabilization funds should be correctly allocated, and not gamed by adding new costs into individual school budgets.
I would like to add that many Ward 1 schools offer Specialty programming – including but not limited to dual language, international baccalaureate, and International Academies – and should therefore receive additional funding. Specialty programming requires program coordinator staff, trainings, and materials, all of which cost money which school leaders should not be forced to steal from funding core school functions.
Finally, as with most everything education-related, this is an equity issue. While a majority of Ward 1 schools have to haggle each year or “get creative” with their budgets, our sister schools in Wards 7 and 8 were hit hardest in the budgets for FY20. Schools east of the river are more likely to have declining enrollment and to be forced to absorb the most significant budget reductions — which directly impacts their ability to serve their remaining student population and to attract more students, thus leading them to enter a “death spiral.”
A system in which there are winners and losers is not, and never will be, an equitable system. When problems are predictable as all of these budget issues are, there is no excuse to continue on with business as usual. Additionally, while DCPS teachers’ salaries look very generous when viewed in a vacuum, when adjusted for DC’s cost of living, our salaries fall squarely in the middle of the pack nationally. Those salaries should never be used as an excuse for inadequately funding the education of our children. It’s time to make the changes necessary to bring stability and equity to our funding process so that all our schools, from Ward 1 to Ward 8 are fully and fairly funded.