Mary Levy Testimony – COW Hearing: DCPS Initial School Level Budgets FY22 – April 2, 2021

Mary Levy Testimony

Committee of the Whole Public Roundtable on DCPS Initial School Level Budgets

April 2, 2021, 9:30am

As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a DCPS parent, I have studied DCPS local school and overall budgets for 40 years.  When DCPS posted proposed local school budgets for next year, a small group of us downloaded and converted them to spreadsheet.  I recently completed systemwide analysis of these budgets.  Preliminary results (numbers may change for a few schools) are that 49 of 115 schools will lose dollar funding and 38 will lose allocated positions. One quarter of the former have very small or no enrollment loss. As in previous years, school buying power is down, by 2.2% for FY 2022. The average increase in dollars is 1.2% while the average teacher cost is rising 1.5%, administrators over 2%, aides 12%, office staff over 13%.  

Changes in some crucial categories:

The effects of all this differ among schools. 

  • Forty-nine schools are actually losing money compared with their last year’s final budgets, while 66 are gaining, though most are gaining little.  Thirty-eight schools are losing allocated positions.  Because additional positions are funded through undesignated funds, such as Chancellor’s Assistance, Per Pupil Funding Minimum, Stabilization, and Title I, the first three of which vary by school from year to year, the total number of staff losses may be higher.
  • When DCPS diverts 40% of at-risk money into basic services, it does not take it evenly even among schools with similar demographics, or from the same school from year to year.
  • On top of Comprehensive Staffing Model basic program and at-risk funds, DCPS awards  separate amounts of money to selected schools for special programs and undesignated purposes.  The basis on which these are selected is not explained and can vary from year to year.  [See Preliminary Analysis, pdf DetailxSch]
  • CSM cutoffs of 300 or 400 for staff allocations create contrasts between schools with projected enrollments close to the cutoffs.  For example, a school of 295 has higher pupil staff ratios than one of 305.

Due to all of the above factors, per pupil funding for general education varies greatly among schools.  “General education” is the remainder when at-risk, special education, ELL and federal funding are filtered out.  One would expect general education per pupil funding among schools with the same grade levels to be similar except for adjustments for size, since small schools have higher costs.  Yet some schools of similar size have general education per pupil funding differing by many hundreds of dollars.  [See Preliminary Analysis, pdf DetailxSch] In considering remedial measures, these factors mean that schools do not all start in the same place.  Some have less money per pupil than others for the same services due to arbitrary cutoffs and allocation practices that at least appear to be random. 

Three significant factors drive the overall budget situation this year:

  1. Schools are, as usual, losing buying power because costs for almost all staff are up, as is inflation for non-staff costs.  Every school has lost buying power, with small variations depending on their mix of staff positions and non-personnel funding.  Overall, school buying power is down by 2.2%.  [See Preliminary Analysis, FY22 at FY21 Cost]
  • Enrollment projections for next year are down compared to those on which this year’s budgets were based.  This is a hangover from a decrease in actual enrollment this year, at least actual enrollment as of October 5.  No information is available on how many returned or transferred in after that date.  Projections are disproportionately down for at-risk students, which means that their schools are losing money disproportionately. [See Preliminary Analysis, FY21&FY22 web]
  • As happens every year DCPS diverts about 40% of the money designated by law for services to at-risk students to pay for basic program services available to all students.  This is particularly unfair because schools with low numbers of at-risk students have little at-risk money to divert, while schools with many at-risk students have a lot syphoned off, leaving at-risk students without the kinds of services to which they are legally entitled.  [See Preliminary Analysis, pdf DetailxSch]

Whereas this year’s budgets are pre-pandemic budgets, next year’s are non-pandemic budgets.  Although federal Covid funding will be available, DCPS does not permit it to be used to save staff positions.  It may be used for non-personal items such as technology and staff paid by the hour, but not to retain a school’s current staff.

Finally, as of mid-March, 2021, we do not know the Final Initial Allocations to schools, nor how much money DCPS will have in total.  The amount in central accounts will be announced only when the Mayor releases her proposed budget in late April.  For many years I have categorized DCPS employees by a consistent set of definitions based on whether or not they serve students directly, which is what most of the public want to know when they ask about central office or “administration.”[1]  The number of central office employees has decreased a little recently but is still much higher than in years much earlier when enrollment was much higher. The number of central office full-time equivalent staff performing the same functions that DCPS now performs rose from 516 in 1981, when we had 95,000 students to 626 in 2007, when we had 52,000, and as of last month to 701 for 50,000.  They include 4 Executive Directors, 9 Chiefs, 24 Deputy Chiefs, 75 Directors, 165 Managers and 41 Analysts.  The system needs some number of these officials, and those who are good are worth a great deal.  But do we really need 35 Executive Directors, Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs?  75 Directors? 165 Managers?  Could some of these positions not be redirected to retain local school staff?

[1] The source is personnel department lists of DCPS employees, obtained by FOIA or from submissions to the D.C. Board of Education (before FY 2008) or to the DC Council (since FY 2008), based on office of employment, program codes, job title, purpose of applicable grant funding, and DCPS website descriptions.  Employees performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out are excluded in the earlier year calculations.

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