Dr. Marla M. Dean Testimony on Behalf of Ward 7 Education Council
Committee of the Whole Public Roundtable on DCPS Initial School Level Budgets
April 2, 2021, 9:30am
Good Morning Chairman Mendelson, Councilmembers and Council Staff. Thank you for the opportunity to come before you this morning. I am Dr. Marla M. Dean, ED/CEO of Bright Beginnings, Inc, a DC nonprofit that operates child and family learning centers serving those largely located in Wards 7 & 8 who as the current Mayor has stated “farthest away from opportunity.” But today, I come before you in my current capacity as Legislative Chair of the Ward 7 Education Council (W7EC) but also as the incoming Chair of the Ward 7 Education Council.
The Ward 7 Education Council supports the petition being currently circulated through the Action Network that calls for more funding to schools and no cuts. I am positive in this era of recovery, after suffering the worst moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can all coalesce around the idea of “no cuts to schools”. But the important question is — will schools receive increased funding to support the whole child, and the impact on families and communities?
This question is the one I hope to elucidate this morning.
- Last night, the W7EC met, and we learned about our schools receiving reduced initial budgets. Many LSATs and principals have successfully petitioned the District to recoup some of their funding cuts but no school has escaped impact.
- Schools have had to cut FTEs; reduce some staff to part time; or plan to dismantle important programming in order to balance their budgets.
- No schools are in a place to bring on innovative programming to help mitigate the experience of the last year.
- One school has a new principal and thought that it was vital to have a vice principal to support the new leadership. To make this happen, this school reduced some staff to part time.
- For some schools to retain staff, they were left with the reality that they could do nothing else.
- While other schools are simply losing FTEs.
- Vital programs like before and after care have been impacted.
- Schools are at risks of not having librarians, music, art or PE instructors.
- Schools have had to eliminate funding for digital learning software and student licenses, funds for college tours, funds for experiential learning off campus, funds for computer devices for teachers and students, and funds for student and teacher celebrations and recognition.
After the experience of COVID-19 and the unknown traumas that will most certainly reveal itself over time, losing staff or cutting programming that ensures that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged cannot be our way forward. We must employ a whole child approach.
2. We must also plan for the future and the inevitable. Special education supports were already a concern before the pandemic and the need will undoubtedly increase as schools fully come online and students return to the building.
- We can anticipate that more students will need to be referred for services. We already have an indicator for this emerging need as violent crime has increased among youth.
- Before the pandemic many schools did not have Special Education Coordinators who did not have teaching loads. Special Education Coordinators do exactly what their title indicates, coordinate vital services. But they also are serve as crisis intervenors, liaisons with parents, and advocates for students. Every school should have a Special Education Coordinator who is duty free from any and all teaching responsibilities. This is a minimum requirement to meet this need that is mandated by law for our students.
3. We must not over rely on community-based organizations and contractors to fill the gaps that we know many of our children will have when they return to their schools. This new term “high dosage tutoring” is one that gives me great pause. If we employ a deficit lens to addressing this issue, we will surely disenfranchise our most vulnerable and marginalized students.
- The way forward must be investing in high expertise teaching. Staff that is in schools daily have the best opportunity to build respect and rapport between staff and students. There can be no supplanting of full-time staff to meet this need.
- We have heard that schools have been told they should not increase staffing because of the cliffing effect. This is reference to the anticipated federal funding that is scheduled to arrive in the near future.
- The reality is that community-based organizations or contractors will experience that same cliffing effect because overtime their funding will sunset. So, we cannot use community-based organizations to supplant the needed staffing of our schools. I am a leader of a community-based organization. They play a vital role. But their role is to supplement not supplant staffing.
- Again, staff that are with our students, day in and day out and for the full day, are our best hope for recovery from this devastating experience our children have endured.
4. Finally, there is a movement afoot to convert to a student-based budgeting staffing model. I am a proponent for student-based budgeting. But not in DC where schools are small and there are over 60 LEAs and where no economies of scale can be employed. We need a strong comprehensive staffing model that ensures all schools have a baseline of staff and programming or we will see more and more students disengage from learning. This is a topic for a future day but it is one to watch for and ask questions about before it is implemented.
Thank you for your time and consideration.