Testimony of Suzanne Wells
President, Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO) met on March 21, 2023, to discuss the school budgets for FY24. Out of 13 schools, five received increases to their budgets averaging $335K with a median gain of $252K. Eight schools received cuts to their budgets averaging $167K with a median loss of $142K.
Seven of the eight schools that lost funding had to cut positions such as classroom teachers, social workers and specials teachers like PE and music. We all know uncertainty over funding from year to year contributes to teacher turnover, and a lack of stability at schools.
The city’s budget for next year is bleaker than it has been in many years. The combination of the end of the covid relief funding along with the declining tax revenues means the city has difficult choices to make in terms of funding for many important programs. We realize it becomes increasingly hard to make schools whole when there are so many other programs to fund. Yet, the sense of our group was that many schools still are not getting the funding they need to fully staff their schools, and cover inflation and teacher salary increases.
In a difficult budget situation, it means every dollar has to be wisely used. For DC, we must focus holistically on the DCPS budget and the charter sector budgets. Today our education dollars are spread very thinly across 249 schools (135 are public charter schools), and we pay for the management of 69 separate school systems (DCPS is just one of the 69 school systems). We have 37 high schools in the city today many with small enrollments, and competing for a limited number of students. This is a very expensive way to run a school system, and it is hurting all children and in particular those most at-risk, because we are not able to fully fund our existing schools.
As incredible as this sounds, for close to thirty years, there has been no planning between DCPS and the PCSB on the opening of new schools. Both DCPS and the PCSB are continuing to open new schools or expanding capacity at existing schools. This lack of planning has resulted in over 30,000 empty seats across both sectors. Empty seats are most often found at the schools with the most at-risk students and they are the ones hurt the most when the city spreads its education dollars thinly across too many schools.
The Council has an important role to play in oversight of both DCPS and the charter sector. We can’t continue to address the budget problems facing schools by throwing more dollars at the problem. As difficult as it is going to be, we must find a way to better align our schools with the number of students the city has. We must find a way to better support our by-right public school system. And, we must stop opening new schools across both sectors without careful analysis of enrollment trends and needs.
One thought on “Suzanne Wells Testimony – CoW DC Ed Agency Hearing – Apr 5 2023”
Hear hear! When I was writing my testimony, which also called for a central coordinated public education plan, I came across legislation that required the DME to produce such a plan by 2010, and the Mayor to revise this plan every 3 years and submit it to the SBOE for review and the Council for approval: https://code.dccouncil.gov/us/dc/council/code/sections/38-191
Have you ever heard of that requirement, or know whether it was ever followed?
Here’s my testimony:
Hello, my name is Elizabeth Corinth. I am a Ward 6 resident, the LSAT Chair for School-Within-School @ Goding where my 3 children attend, a substitute teacher, and a co-organizer of the DC LSAT Collective. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
As a parent who is also an educator, I am deeply invested in the public education system in our city, and I have taken time this year to try to garner a deeper understanding and broader awareness of its functioning — and its dysfunctions. I want to share with you some of the key takeaways I have gathered thus far.
(1) There is a need for a comprehensive, clearly articulated, driving strategic plan to shape public education decisions in the district. In a system with 69 LEAs, 249 schools, and 96,000 students, the absence of a coordinated vision will inevitably result in inefficiency, confusion, and students slipping through the cracks.
The Council has established code (§ 38–191) requiring that the Deputy Mayor for Education provide, as of 2010, a statewide, strategic education and youth development plan which includes:
a clearly articulated vision statement – stated goals and operational priorities – an assessment of needs and a comprehensive, research- and data-based strategy to address those needs – a timeline and benchmarks for planning and implementation – an operational framework that provides for shared accountability, broad-based civic community involvement, and coordination with key stakeholders; – an explication of the location and planning for educational facilities and campuses; – and recommendations for policy and legislative changes, if needed, to increase the effectiveness of the plan
The Mayor is required to review and update the plan every 3 years and submit the plan to the Council for approval, and to the State Board of Education for review. Has this happened? If so, where is that plan? It should be readily available, widely shared, and frequently and explicitly referenced when making education decisions. If it hasn’t happened, this needs to be prioritized. This year, with the Master Facilities Plan and Student Assignment & Boundary Study prompting an in-depth analysis of various aspects of facilities utilization and education quality across the District, provides a perfect opportunity to undertake the task of developing and beginning to implement such a comprehensive plan.
(2) We need to achieve baseline funding adequacy. Many if not most schools across the district do not feel that they have the funding needed to provide baseline educational services to their students. Because of the lack of transparency surrounding how individual LEAs translate the UPSFF dollars they receive into the budgets allocated to individual schools — for example, DCPS provides no explanation as to how they determine each year’s student-based budgeting base weight, which multiplies across the number and characteristics of the student population to constitute a significant portion of each school’s allocation budget — it is difficult to determine whether this lack of adequacy stems from insufficiency of the UPSFF itself, or inefficiencies in the allocation of funds at the LEA level. This is a question I hope will be addressed in the adequacy study which the Deputy Mayor of Education was allocated $300,000 to conduct in FY23.
(3) DCPS needs to take its Local School Advisory Teams seriously. DCPS proclaims that LSATs “are a key lever to increasing transparency at DCPS and ensuring decisions affecting school communities are made collaboratively with the help of a diverse group of school stakeholders.” And indeed they can and should be. However, despite the high expectations placed on the volunteer LSAT members to delve deeply into complicated matters such as school budgets and Comprehensive School Plans, there is no accountability for principals or DCPS to actually align with or even publicly respond to any of their recommendations, so that these efforts often end up feeling like a performative exercise as opposed to true engagement — especially when, as is the case with budget allocations, the timeline is rushed and blatantly inconvenient to these key stakeholders.
(4) Finally, while I have your ear, I want to slip in a plug for FoodPrints — an amazing program that gives students the chance to plant, harvest, prepare, and eat nutritious meals together. The sessions are a joy-filled highlight for students, who gain invaluable culinary, botanical, and environmental knowledge and skills while working collaboratively towards a common goal. Our school is only able to offer FoodPrints as a result of extensive fundraising outside our school’s allocated budget, but it is well worth the cost. I believe that FoodPrints should be offered in every public school due to its promotion of health, life skills, interdisciplinary learning, and academic engagement, and I regret that there are many schools that aren’t able to offer this program due to inability to do this type of additional fundraising. I encourage you to consider expanding access to this incredible program as part of the FY24 budget.
Thank you for your time and attention.