Testimony of Suzanne Wells — Committee on Education DCPS Budget Hearing — April 27, 2017



My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am a parent of a 6th grader at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

In 2010, DCPS released its plan for the Ward 6 middle schools that included starting the process for Eliot-Hine Middle School to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme.  After much hard work on the part of DCPS, the teachers and administrators at Eliot-Hine and the Ward 6 community, Eliot-Hine Middle School was authorized by the IB educational foundation to become an IB Middle Years Programme in November 2015.  Eliot-Hine is the only Title 1 middle school in DC that currently has the IB authorization.   The IB educational foundation is committed to providing underserved student populations with access to a high-quality international educational experience.  IB is one of many tools DCPS has to closing the achievement gap that exists in our city.

In SY17-18, Eliot-Hine is being forced to put its IB authorization in jeopardy because its inadequate budget does not allow it to meet the staffing requirements set out by both DCPS and the IB educational foundation.  Because of staffing decisions the Department of Behavioral Health is making to withdraw its full-time licensed clinical therapists from individual schools, Eliot-Hine must use its own budget to provide for a school counselor next year.  Staffing the school counselor position means Eliot-Hine will only be able to hire one World Language instructor.  That one instructor will only have time to be scheduled to teach the general education students, and not the special education students.  IB Middle Year requirements are for at least two world language teachers.  In addition, the school budget will only allow a half-time librarian to be hired, not a full-time librarian as required due to the unique role librarians play in working with the teachers and students to support collaborative inquiries.  This staffing model puts the long-sought IB Middle Years authorization at Eliot-Hine in jeopardy.  I request that the Council advocate for sufficient funding for Eliot-Hine to allow it to meet the IB staffing requirements.

As the Chancellor stated in his email to parents earlier this week, the most important thing for student success is having a high-quality teacher in the classroom. However, the decisions made by DCPS to underfund our school has forced the school to move towards having two half-time teaching positions next year.  In trying to understand the impact this decision will have on the quality of our teachers, we were informed that while it is a “common practice” within DCPS for teachers to split time at two schools, the number of highly-effective teachers who are part-time in multiple schools could not be reported because the n-size was too small.

Of course, Eliot-Hine’s budget is driven by its enrollment which brings me to a larger concern with the Mayor’s FY18 education budget.  While there is much talk of the $105 million additional dollars being added to the budget for education, there is far too little talk about the choices being made regarding how to distribute those dollars between DCPS and the public charter schools.  The mayor decided to direct 80% of the additional $105 million to the charters sector largely due to a projected enrollment increase of over 3,400 students, and only 20% of the dollars to DCPS because of a projected enrollment increase of only 226 students.  It would take more than three minutes to explain the very serious concerns with the direction our elected leaders are taking to lead our city away from a by-right, municipally run public school system.  I ask the Council to find ways within the FY18 budget to invest in the DCPS schools that need it the most, ensure that all parts of our city have by-right schools, and find ways to end putting parents at the mercy of a lottery system as they search for quality schools for their children.


Testimony of Danica Petroshius — Parent at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan — April 27, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I’m Danica Petroshius, parent of two at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML) and a Ward 6 resident.

We have been given a proposed FY18 budget by the Mayor that decreases funding for school modernizations. Chairman Grosso, you asked earlier this week where the outrage is about our continued push for tax cuts while shortchanging education. There is outrage about the lack of significant investment in school modernizations year after year.

The Deputy Mayor of Education summarized the arguments on Tuesday on why we can’t fix all schools that we hear over and over from our elected officials:

  • We don’t have enough money.
  • We have a debt cap.
  • We don’t have enough contractors.
  • We don’t have enough swing space.
  • We can’t fund everyone – so if your school is funded, which school will you cut instead?
  • And my favorite: Well, the order of the CIP is the order. We can’t change that.

We are outraged by those answers because they are barriers that city leaders have created — they are not real barriers. Our city leaders have made decisions that these barriers are more important than fixing all school buildings. The reality is that we have a surplus; we can leverage more debt; contractors will come – we can break down these barriers. Parents see right through these arguments – that they are just ways for our politicians to explain that they don’t have the will to make modernizations a priority.

Our kids see it too. They feel a city putting them last – a city that does not think their health, safety and education matter. CHML 3rd graders testified this morning and they shared with you that it makes them feel sad, mad and confused to walk into a great school community in a terrible building every day. And it causes them real problems of stress, hearing issues, injuries and missed opportunities.

You heard tonight from my fellow parents about the real problems of rampant pests, a middle school in a trailer, elevated noise levels, ongoing structural issues, lack of adequate space and more.

We talk a lot about taxation without representation as a city. As parents we ask: where is our representation right now, here? There is representation for tax breaks coming first. There is representation for professional athletic stadiums and practice facilities getting funded. There is representation for contractors building condos everywhere you look. There is representation for universal paid leave. Where is representation for fully funding schools and school modernizations?

We are outraged when we hear that our hard-spent income and sales tax dollars keep growing the city surplus, but there is no way to use some of it to finally fix our crumbling, inadequate buildings. Where is our representation? Taxation without representation feels very real to us right now.

We are doing our part. We are helping our children cope and learn in these dilapidated buildings. We raise money to support teacher professional development and classroom materials because DCPS won’t support us enough. We pay our taxes and spend money in DC businesses. We testify over and over. We continue to vote.

Now we ask you to do your part: make a significant investment that will quickly modernize all our schools. When you make your budget decisions, I hope you remember the students who testified this morning. Are you willing to condemn them to be educated in dilapidated buildings knowing that you could have done something to change it? We can and must do better. Thank you.


Testimony of Elizabeth Bacon — DC Council Education Committee DCPS Budget Oversight Hearing — April 27, 2017

Thank you to the Committee for your commitment to hearing public voices in the oversight of our public schools. I am a Ward 6 public schools parent with one child at School Within School and another at Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

Today, I want to testify through the lenses of fiscal responsibility and transparency.

I believe it’s fiscally responsible to put more money into schools – into programming and into our school buildings. I believe it’s fiscally responsible to use part of the city’s enormous surplus on our schools.

But it’s not responsible to give the wealthiest DC residents a tax cut at the expense of schools.

Our city is booming. So much development everywhere, much of it in high-end condo buildings and expensive sports stadiums but some in family-oriented spending, like library renovations and parks and safer streets.

BUT WHERE IS THE EQUAL COMMITMENT TO OUR ALL OUR SCHOOLS? And to the health and safety of the environments for our teachers and students?

At so many of past oversight hearings, we’ve heard about the broken process to fix schools — not just modernize them. Today, I bring examples of that broken process from one teacher at SWS:

In my first year of teaching as I lay the children down to sleep on their mats I watched in disgust as small mice would run by the sleeping children with little to no recourse in preventing it. In my second year the AC unit above my room leaked ruining materials and destroying ceiling tiles. My third year I saw DGS take off the locks to our doors so we were no longer able to successfully fulfill our mandated active shooter drills. Imagine knowing that fact and having to assure parents and children that they are safe. To this day, I still have no locks on my door. In my fourth year we had lead in our drinking water, a gas leak, a small fire. This year, we had 90-degree classroosm for weeks on end and continue to battle with rats.

As a highly effective teacher, I’ve risen above the despicable conditions DCPS has continued to neglect but this is no way to treat your teachers and especially not your students.

Earlier this week, we heard Councilmember Allen’s and Chairman Grosso’s support for spending surplus dollars on our school buildings — rather than prioritizing tax cuts. We applaud our council members who are prioritizing our public schools over tax cuts.

I turn now to fiscal responsibility and transparency of the at-risk funds.

Even though we’re far beyond using at-risk funds as “happiness money” (the Proving What’s Possible model) money, the use of at-risk funds is still not aligned with the law — used “for the purpose of improving student achievement among at-risk students” and “shall not supplant any Formula, federal, or other funds to which the school is entitled” — and it’s still not transparent to principals, LSATs, and parents how at-risk funds allocated, and how much is allocated.

Mary Levy and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has done an incredible amount of digging into the use of at-risk funds at every school. Their analysis shows that about half of the at-risk funds are being used to supplant core functions that school budgets should be paying for otherwise.

As a parent consumer of school budgets, it’s not transparent how much each school is actually receiving in at-risk funds or how those funds are being used.

In the budget allocation worksheets, it’s impossible to tell where the at-risk funds are going. SWS’ and Watkins’ budget has a line item for “At Risk Funds” (although Watkins At-Risk Funds line item is $1), but Stuart-Hobson and Eliot-Hine do not. Is this because DCPS has already allocated that money for these middle schools – in core staffing or in art, music, PE, and science supplies and “Socio-Emotional Support Funds”? How do we know?

To make matters more opaque: the total at-risk funds listed that each school receives doesn’t follow a consistent formula. Of the 4 schools I looked at in Ward 6, each received less than what should be allocated according to the DCPS formula of $2,152 per at-risk student (as calculated by DC Fiscal Policy Institute based on the DCPS at-risk weight) and none received the same per pupil amount.

Here are my back-of-the-envelope calculations comparing several school’s initial allocations (because the final budgets aren’t yet publicly available, but we’re still having a budget oversight hearing!):

School Total received as listed in initial allocation worksheet Number of at-risk students Per student amount calculated based on total shown on worksheet Total amount that would be allocated if calculated according to formula in the DCPS budget guide (base of $9827 x at-risk weight of .219 = $2,152 per at-risk student) Difference
SWS 44,800 22.7 1,973 46,698 -1,898
Watkins 229,600 118.72 1933 255,485 -25,885
Eliot-Hine 293,800 150.52 1951 323,919 -30,119
Stuart-Hobson 264,100 147.56 1789 317,549 -53,449

The at-risk funds are a crucial resource in schools’ toolboxes to level the playing field for all of our students. But schools still cannot take full advantage of this resources as long as allocations aren’t consistent, don’t supplant school budgets, and aren’t transparent.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.


Testimony of Heather Schoell ▪ Eliot-Hine Middle School PTO President ▪ Eastern High School PTO Secretary ▪ LSAT Secretary for Both Schools ▪ 21-year Ward 6 Resident ▪ Budget Hearing 4/27/17


I’m not at all confident that allocations for schools are accurate. At-Risk funds are supposed to be used at the discretion of the schools. I’m on the LSAT at both Eastern and Eliot-Hine, and those funds were not broken out. This is a blatant violation of the mandate that At-Risk funds supplement regular funding, not supplant it, and that the funds be separate in the budget. Beth Bacon may have just figured out how schools were shorted in the per-pupil allocations, but errors shouldn’t take a data wizard. Budgets should be transparent, and we should have more time to work with them and more autonomy within them.

At Eliot-Hine, despite seeing a 13.3% projected increase in enrollment, the school’s total budget will be cut by 3.6% from FY17 levels. Not only that, but the initial budget allocation for Eliot- Hine MS was developed per the DCPS Comprehensive Staffing Model, not as School Budget Development Guide, section 3.1.16, indicates it will be developed for IB programs. This results in an understaffing of approximately 5.9 positions in the budget allocation and 3.5 positions in the final staffing model (assuming At-Risk funds will be used to supplement the level of staffing required for the IB programme; At-Risk funds add 2 additional teaching positions to the school). And if Beth is right, Eliot-Hine was shorted $29,000. That’s a huge difference to us – that means art supplies, music supplies, cleaning supplies, classroom books, copy paper, and toilet paper (or conversely, none of those things).

Though our LSAT was strongly against it, DCPS rejected our petitions to support the proper IB model and changed our budget to include 2 half time positions. Half time teachers are not highly effective teachers – literally, according to their own data, there are no DCPS half time teachers who have been rated highly effective. The Chancellor’s latest email missive read, “Research indicates that the number one factor leading to increased student achievement is the presence of an effective teacher. More than any other factor, a student’s academic growth is influenced most positively when they are taught by a talented and caring teacher.” And yet, our staffing model that they’re insisting on is setting us up to fail.

There’s no one for us to tell. No one will listen.

DBH in Schools:

Talk about messing up the budget! A middle school with 71%at risk students can’t be without social/emotional support. Because of DBH’s sudden decision to pull counselors out of schools right before school budgets hit, Eliot-Hine had to allocate $100,000 to make up for this loss. That means we’re down to one world language teacher for the whole school. There goes language level differentiation. That also means we’re down to a half time librarian – our library will be locked half the week. That means our teachers won’t be able to have students do research projects, which is essential to an IB curriculum. The classrooms don’t have but a few computers – for a whole class to work, they have to go to the library!


In 2008, Eliot was merged with Hine, and at that time, it was supposed to be renovated. My daughter Olivia was in 1st grade. In 2010, Eliot-Hine was slated for modernization in FY13. Olivia was in 3rd grade, and the reno was to be done while she was in 6th grade. It seemed so far in the future. It was pushed back again and again until FY16, when the reno was to be complete in time for her 8th grade year. But it happened again, and now work is to be done in 2020, when Olivia will have just graduated from high school. This is shameful. All students deserve a school with heathy air to breathe. They deserve to hear the lesson, and see the lesson. We need to modernize all schools so they at least have functioning light, acoustics, and climate control.

Failure Shouldn’t Be an Option:

Most of what is on this page could be solved with common sense. The new chancellor has said he is 100% in favor of supporting social/emotional needs and the opportunity for students to advance. Our principal should be allowed to lead our school with her vision and management, which supports the Chancellor’s vision exactly, but we’re cut off at the knees and set up to fail. Eliot-Hine needs budget autonomy and oversight by people who actually know and support the IB programme.

I wish I could be there today because you always ask good follow-up questions, but I have a lunchtime club at Eliot-Hine every Thursday, and it’s more important to me that I don’t let the kids down than be one of 100 at the hearing.


Testimony of María Helena Carey — DC Public Schools Parent — Committee on Education Budget Hearing — April 27, 2017

Good morning. My name is María Helena Carey and I am a Ward 6, Capitol Hill resident and mother to two students at School Within School at Goding: Patrick, in 5th grade and Brandon in 2nd grade. This is Patrick’s last year at SWS: He is part of the school’s first 5th grade class.

Neither of my children will be an SWS student by the time the Mayor’s proposed plan allows for a school modernization, as construction would begin in 2023 at the earliest.

That’s how it goes when you grow up in a city where kids’ well-being and the need to have an adequate school environment is secondary to the District’s other priorities. Even as public school enrollment is up and the District has a budget surplus, our children are being forced to wait for basic repairs, such as doors that lock properly, sprinklers, or an HVAC system that regulates indoor temperature instead of emphasizing it.

Ever since SWS moved to the former Prospect Learning Center in 2013, we have been given a timeline for repairs that is pushed farther and farther out into the future.

It’s okay, we’ve been told: We are so lucky to have a school building! It’s true: We could still be working out of the portable classrooms annexed to Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, where our quarters were so cramped that our school came to be known as “School With Sickness.” (And where, as we’ve learned, our school population was also possibly exposed to unsafe lead levels.)

We are so lucky to have a supportive parent population! So what if the rats ate the children’s snacks or if sewage backed up into a drinking fountain in the cafeteria? Maybe these will be hilarious stories to tell someday. Maybe we should tweet about it and see if we can at least shame the city government into some sort of stop-gap action: it seems that desperate acts of levity, like taking a picture of a child standing inside a massive sinkhole is a way to break the torpor of our agencies.

It’s not funny in the long run, however. It’s not funny to have to create a Twitter account for an inanimate object –an elevator that, until it began complaining and getting regularly maintained by DGS, couldn’t quite call itself ADA-compliant. It’s not funny to have the elevator’s running gag be a jeremiad of everything that is wrong with our building. It’s even less funny to know that once the elevator complains enough times, things like air conditioning units magically appear– units that should have been installed at the beginning of last summer’s vacation.

And every year, the to-do list grows longer, as it does for a structure built in 1959.

One of my favorite things about SWS is that, despite our aging building and the uncomfortable situations our children have had to endure, there is a happy can-do attitude in the school and staff that spills over onto our kids. These remarkable teachers and support personnel tackle problems and hassles big and small and teach our children not just their ABCs, but also how to see the best in all situations and believe in the good of people. Our staff gives their all for our kids: it’s about time the government did right by all of us.

Spend our money in the future of DC, and in the present as well.

Fix all our schools.

Support our teachers.

Do right by our communities.

Do what’s right.


Testimony of Max Kieba — DCPS Budget Oversight Hearing — April 27, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Max Kieba.  I am a Ward 6 Resident and parent at Maury Elementary.

Need for additional per pupil funding and non-personnel funding support, going directly to schools, with flexibility for the schools on how they’re used.

I was happy to see DCPS committed to driving as much funding as possible to the school level with 83.5% of all funds being sent directly to schools and additional 13.2% for school support (reference DCPS hearing responses, Q5.)   However, we need more in per pupil funding put into the pot in the first place.   The general sense is that 1.5% increase just isn’t cutting it.   We also need additional funds for non-personnel spending (supplies, professional development, etc.)    Using just our school budget as an example but understanding this is an impact district-wide… there were increases in personnel budgets as the cost of a teacher increased due largely to cost of living increases.  However, those costs didn’t actually translate to increased salaries to teachers/staff.  In fact we had to cut certain support positions and continue to have to submit petitions for things like a full time STEM teacher and in the case of this year an additional 3rd grade teacher.  Schools should not have to petition for things like a STEM teacher… every school should have that.  Furthermore, budgets for non-personnel spending were reduced.  In our case we were left with just over $38,000 for everything, which included roughly $9000 for mandatary funding for specials.  What you’re left with isn’t much to run a school or support our teachers and students.   In our case, we’re fortunate that our PTA is able to raise a fair amount to help support and we come up with other creative ways to make it work (for instance this week along we had a call out for home-made ice packs.)   However, schools should not have to rely on parent funding support to get it done and not every school is able to raise funds.  

Tracking and support for students moving mid-year – additional details?

In with line supporting the students directly, it’s critical we continue to look at ways to track and continue to support the students that might move mid-year regardless of which sector they move from or to.  I was happy to see in the draft budget summary package that there was a bullet talking about improving technology to help parents navigate and engage in public education, specifically parent portal for DCPS; extending MySchoolDC for mid-year entries and transfers; and launching a new MyChildCareDC site.   However, I’m having trouble seeing much detail behind the MySchool DC extensions for mid-year entries in either the budget or the DME responses.  Can you shed more light on the details?

Modernization Process and some Budget outlook Improvements Seen, but more Work to be Done

Looking big picture on where we’ve come in only the last couple of years, we are seeing some improvements in the overall process.  Communication and public engagement through multiple levels at DCPS is improving at least based on the Maury experience.    We are thankful to have additional funding proposed that was identified as being needed per the process.   We hope that at least that number sticks through the budget review process with more details to be shaken out as the SIT process continues.   We also want to acknowledge the chancellor’s efforts in meeting with staff to get their input and making some tough but sound decision on swing space.  DCPS has told us we should be seeing new ed specs soon.    Some other pieces do remain frustrating, particularly DGS’ ability to move along on their responsibilities.  As just one example, we still don’t have a design-build architect in place for proposals that came in January.   It’s tough to move along the process much more without having the architect in place.    I know we’re not alone in raising frustration with DGS on their ability to move along on both big and even smaller items.

From an overall budget and prioritization perspective, there are some improvements seen that should be acknowledged.  Whereas in year’s past those 6 year funding numbers were all over the map and could change substantially from one year to the next or some schools completely lose funding they previously had promised, it appears to have settled somewhat comparing this year to last year.  For the most part the 6 year numbers for projects already in the cue are remaining consistent, and the next schools in the matrix are slowly but surely moving up.  

There is some general disappointment that we can’t get more schools still waiting started sooner, even if it’s just initial start of the SIT and feasibility planning discussions.  It should be acknowledged we are in a big transition year with PACE Act requirements in the process of being implemented (with some not due until later this year), new ed specs coming out, a master facilities plan in development, new chancellor in place and a relatively limited number of SIT support staff and some might argue a limited number of quality design and construction contractors that can only manage so many projects at once.   We also have many priorities we’re trying to address.   

However, realistically speaking the initial planning/feasibility stage takes a good 1-1.5 years or so before you even have an initial idea of what the individual school truly needs/wants, what is feasible and what the costs might be.    Without those initial discussions, really anything in the 6 year plan is just a guess or based on a crude square footage estimate.   On how exactly we find the money to get it done, I leave that to others to decide.  I have heard the proposal to delay the estate tax threshold increase as one possible way to get additional funding and support that concept.  I’m sure there might be some other possibilities as well, but again defer to others.

Master facilities plan delays?

While more of a DME role than DCPS but still could impact the DCPS process, I was disappointed to hear the master facilities plan will be delayed and won’t be delivered by December 15, 2017.   If I’m understanding the DME Budget question responses correctly (reference Q8, pg 13) final submission won’t occur until April 2018? (i.e. around same time as draft budget.)  I do at least appreciate to see some apparent stakeholder engagement in October 2017 for the 33% draft and again in February 2018 prior to 100% draft in March and submission to council in April.


Testimony of Ivan Frishberg — On Behalf of Brent Elementary PTA — Education Committee, Budget Oversight Hearing — April 27th, 2017

Thank you Chairman Grosso and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today on behalf of the Brent Elementary PTA.

I would like to raise three topics today with respect to the Mayor’s proposed 2018 budget for DCPS: The per pupil funding amounts, the pace of school modernizations, and specific questions about the milestones for the Jefferson Academy modernization.

First, with respect to overall funding. It is true that the overall education budget is going up, but as we all know, that is because enrollment is going up. It’s not a stretch to conclude that one of the reasons that the DC gross revenues are up every year since 2016 is connected to that fact that the population of students is also rising. That is a good thing for the City, that more families are choosing to trust in our schools and invest in DC.

But we betray that trust when we don’t invest back in schools. And hiding behind total dollar amounts without reference to increasing enrollment and costs is not being straight about the challenges our kids face. According to analysis done by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, per pupil spending has fallen further behind inflation every year since 2016. This year’s proposal to drop the per pupil spending from a two percent increase to a 1.5 percent increase will result in an even deeper hole for our schools. School budgets will drop, LSATs will face even tougher choices, and you can bet the teachers will go for 8 years in a row without a contract. Our PTA was meeting until late last night trying to figure out how to fill a $30,000 hole in the schools budget even when we are just trying to keep the same staffing levels. We are fortunate to be in a position to work on that, but many are not.

The relative turnaround for DC schools is by no means complete and letting per student funding fall back threatens the progress we have made. All across the City. We believe the per pupil allocation should be significantly increased.

With respect to modernization funding, we offer a similar concern. Under the proposed budget, the six year spend on DCPS capital projects has declined by $50m from last year when it should be growing to ensure all schools are included in the plan. In the meantime, the Deputy Mayor’s Cross Sector Task Force, launched almost two years ago, has steadfastly avoided the issue of lack of central planning of where we build capacity and seats for our students. So what we are left with is two separate authorities, including the Charter school board that is not serving a planning function, but simply approving new schools as they are proposed, adds more and more seats and further stretches budgets across the system. Add on to this the high likelihood that the Department of General Service is not the most efficient steward of resources, and it’s no wonder parents are still frustrated despite the progress we have made.

Turning to Jefferson Academy, the Brent and Feeder communities are grateful for the modest changes in the plan for Jefferson, principally moving the last budget year up by a year, and completion up to Summer of 2021. There has been a lot of confusing and conflicting information from DCPS about the milestones for modernization. However, assuming that the presentation and memo shared with the Jefferson PTA and feeder communities is correct, and the budget book and its errata memo are not, there is still some concern that without starting planning earlier than their best case scenario of “late fall / early winter of 2018”, the completion date of August 2021 will slip right into another school year. In addition to the potential of disruption in to another school year, this would mean that the first class of students from Van Ness Elementary might not have the school ready for their arrival. It is good that the feasibility study and a SIT will begin maybe this fall, maybe next winter, but given the track record of these agencies it makes sense to find every opportunity to advance the timeline.

Next year’s 6th graders will experience a great new gym and auditorium, a great new science wing, and will enter through pretty new doors. And we are thankful to the Council and your Committee for the tireless oversight and funding that has made that possible. But the kids you just heard from are right to be concerned about one thing that is inherently tied to full modernization; the temperature control in the main educational areas. They are absolutely right to be concerned about that and that is a timely and urgent health and educational attainment issue.

We hope we can make even more incremental progress on the timeline, and that the Council will take broader action to significantly adjust the priorities of the proposed budget to shift more resources into this committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today and for your kind and gracious hospitality to our students.