DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Suzanna Dennis, Payne ES

Good morning.  My name is Suzanna Dennis, and I have a daughter in the PK-3 program at Daniel A. Payne Elementary School on Capitol Hill.  Before I begin, I want to thank the Council, Mayor & DCPS for their time and continued support this year.


1. Overview

In the past year I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience as a parent at Payne Elementary.  The teachers, administration, and Principal are fully committed to providing a healthy learning environment.


As you know, Payne fills a unique need on Capitol Hill.  It currently serves 272 students, and enrollment is projected to grow.  Payne is known for its strong leadership; its high quality early childhood curriculum; its program integrating children with hearing impairments with hearing students; its special education services, including a program for children with emotional behavioral disabilities; and as the neighborhood school for children from the DC General Families Shelter.


There is growing PTA, as well as a committed group of prospective parents, neighbors and business owners allied to support the school through the Friends of Payne.  We’re continuing to grow that support through various initiatives, including expanding the school garden program this spring.



2. Budget

As you know, the school has been planning for Phase I of its long-needed and anticipated modernization this summer.  In February/March we had a great showing of school and broader community support to make sure Payne’s renovation goes ahead as planned.  Earlier this month the Mayor’s office submitted to the Council a reprogramming that meets two important goals.  First, it substantially increases Payne’s total capital budget by approximately thirty percent.  Second, it accelerates the renovation schedule by allocating all of the capital dollars in FY14, presumably with the expectation that the whole project will be completed this fiscal year between June and August.  It is my understanding that this new budget fully meets the school’s modernization needs.


Payne now has the exciting challenge of planning an $18 million renovation for all three Phases in the next two months, and executing that plan over the summer.  I remain hopeful that officials will be able to plan for and expend the entire $18 million budget prior to the end of this fiscal year.  Given the ambitious timing and size of the reprogramming, this will be a challenge, but a welcome one given the long standing and extensive capital renovation needs at Payne Elementary.


The Payne community stands committed to providing whatever planning and other support is needed to ensure that the project is completed on schedule.  We ask that the Council, through its oversight role, assist us in this effort.

Payne’s proposed operating budget for 2015 is $3.851 million.  This amount will pay for teachers—including early childhood and special education—the school’s leadership and administrative support, after school and library programs, and facility costs.


3. Closing

I am proud to send my daughter to Payne Elementary.  As a parent, a member of the PTSA, and the Friends of Payne, I look forward to working with the Council to support the great efforts already underway.  These efforts will build on Payne’s historic legacy to make Payne one of Capitol Hill’s most sought after schools.  Much needed improvements to the facility will make a big difference in the academic experience of its students and in the overall success of the school.


Since Payne serves some of the city’s most vulnerable elementary students, the Council’s continued dedication to improving neighborhood safety and community services–such as the families’ shelter–will also help bolster children’s learning experience at Payne.


I want to thank the Council again for their time and their continuing support of Payne Elementary.   We look forward to keeping this Committee apprised of our efforts, including the progress with the modernization.



Testimony before DC Council Committee on Education, Budget Hearing

Suzanna Dennis/Payne Elementary





DC Public Schools FY15 Budget Hearing Testimony by Khai Booker – CHML

Good Evening to All,

I am Khai Booker, a long-time parent at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan.  I have 2 children one in 4th grade and another in 6th grade. Our school offers a unique choice in education, is richly diverse and hails from every Ward in the city.  Currently we serve from PK-3 through 6th grade.  We are scheduled to expand to 7th grade next year and 8th the year after.  At a time when many families are leaving DCPS at middle school, we believe that with the right investments, we can keep our students and bring others back from charters, private schools and the suburbs.

Public Montessori is at the forefront of a national trend, backed by a 100 year old pedagogy that has been tested around the globe.   Simply put: Montessori seeks to instill a love of learning in EVERY child. The learning environment we have created shapes the child for success academically as well as socially and has been proven effective in research and by our alumni.  Throughout its history, Capitol Hill Montessori has always worked to mirror the goals of DCPS. Our current Student Satisfaction Index is 98%.  We believe this score reflects Montessori’s insistence that students’ voices be heard.  They need to know that the Mayor and DCPS will keep their word and do their part.

According to the lottery results, many other families want to join our middle school. Over 1/3 of our 6th and 7th grade applicants have chosen CHML as one of their top three schools.  This expansion is definitely about more than 7 rising 7th graders and right-sizing a few toilets.  If we don’t build it, they will still come and when the facilities are inadequate, there will be many angry and disappointed families.   More importantly there will be children who have been let down by the very adults upon whom they should be able to depend.

I’d like to make a few points regarding our current Math test scores, as our Reading scores are very strong. Despite the fact that our school has doubled in size in 3yrs, and the fact that Montessori teaches Math differently than most traditional schools, our Math scores are on a steady incline. On the 2012-13 DC CAS, 38% of our students scored Proficient or Advanced in Math and our goal is to increase this number to 46%.  Our scores on this year’s PIA’s give us hope.  We want to be great.  For this reason, we are doing the following:

  •          Our Students use First In Math and LearnZillion at home;
  •          Our Teachers use sample lessons from Achieve the Core;
  •          We have a  DC CAS Resource Specialist assisting all teachers on how to maximize their classroom time leading up to the test;
  •          We host a Saturday Scholars program.

We are part of a strong and committed community but one of our most important partners must be DCPS. What answer would this panel give to the rising 6th and 7th graders who were promised a middle school and those who are transferring to CHML? Would you still tell them that all you can manage are a few age-appropriate toilets? And finally, do you think that they will believe in someone who does not keep their word?  Thank you for your time and attention.


Testimony of Khai Booker,

Parent at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan

March 20th, 2014


DC Public Schools FY15 Budget Hearing Testimony by Joe Weedon – Maury ES

Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

My name is Joe Weedon. I’m here today as a parent of two students at Maury Elementary School and as a member of the Eliot-Hine MS LSAT. I serve as the Maury PTA’s Middle School Committee Chair and as Maury ES representative on DCPS’s Eliot-Hine Collaboration Team. I am also a member of Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) Title I Committee of Practitioners.

I would like to begin by thanking you for your investment in middle schools in this year’s budget. Parents across the city have waited far too long to see middle school reform move forward. I’d also like to thank DCPS for revisiting, and adjusting, the initial budget allocation made to Maury ES.

FY2015 Budget Process

At community meetings held across the city this spring, Chancellor Henderson promised, repeatedly, that this year’s DCPS budget process would be different. At two events I attended – January 27th for middle school LSATs and February 6th for elementary school LSATs – the Chancellor laid out a timeline for DCPS to announce new initiatives, for school officials to begin planning for the coming year, and for LSATs and parents to be consulted before our final school budgets were submitted to central office. The Chancellor also encouraged those attending these meetings to “dream big” and “envision what you would do with a 10% funding increase.”

Unfortunately, the process was not different and the impact of the Chancellor not following through on promised budget increases was devastating.  Deadlines were missed, information about different initiatives was hard to find and often vague. And, the Chancellor’s promise of across the board funding increases was hollow. The impact of these broken promises cannot be understated. At Maury ES, the LSAT had developed a strong plan to utilize new, promised, resources and then was given only 6 days – over a weekend and with a snow day further undermining the ability to meet – to develop an entirely new staffing plan for the school. After promises of new resources, teachers and support staff were given a budget that threatened their jobs, undermining school moral just weeks before DC CAS testing. Parents and community members felt like they had to break promises to beloved staff and that the future of our school was in jeopardy.

While I am a strong supporter of many of the Chancellor’s initiatives, the annual budget process is unnecessarily frustrating and I’m disappointed that Chancellor Henderson, once again, failed to meet the expectations that she set for herself. That said, overall, the FY2015 DCPS budget provides limited new resources across Ward 6 and begins to fulfill promises made in 2010 about supporting our middle schools, implementing the Ward 6 Middle School Plan and creating stable pathways from early education through high school graduation.

Eliot-Hine MS. A Strong Step Forward.

The FY2015 DCPS budget for Eliot-Hine MS is $4,142,708, a $566,405 increase over the FY2014 budget. At this level of funding, the principal and LSAT have created a staffing plan that will allow Eliot-Hine MS to move forward with the implementation of a strong IB Middle Years Programme by providing world language instruction to all students, by continuing to offer innovative courses – including TV/Radio Broadcasting – and by ensuring all students have full year access to English, Math – including Algebra – and other core subjects.

While the community is generally pleased with the overall budget for Eliot-Hine MS, there are still concerns. Over the past year, DCPS and the community has invested in a new collection for the Eliot-Hine library and media center and the library has become a destination for students; however, at current budget allocations Eliot-Hine will not be able to maintain full-time staffing for the library and media center undermining this investment and preventing our students from having access to these resources.

Across the District, only four middle schools failed to receive allocations for full-time librarians – Cardozo MS, Eliot-Hine MS, Johnson MS, and Sousa MS. Each of these schools falls short of a 300 student threshold for receiving a full-time allocation. However, at current and school-projected enrollment levels, Eliot-Hine MS will exceed this 300 student threshold.

Currently, there are 306 students enrolled at Eliot-Hine MS and the school’s October 1 audit counted 292 students.  Despite this fact, DCPS estimates that Eliot-Hine’s enrollment will grow by 4 students to reach 275 students next year. Clearly, the DCPS estimate is inaccurate. School leadership currently expects enrollment to reach at least 310 students next year and continue to increase as Eliot-Hine becomes a destination school for Ward 6 students (though concerns about the potential opening of new public charter middle schools could alter these expectations). At the current and community projected enrollment levels, Eliot-Hine would qualify to receive a full allocation for a librarian.

Given that Eliot-Hine’s current enrollment exceeds the 300 student threshold and that school officials expect to exceed that threshold again next year, we ask that you provide the school with an additional 0.5 allocation, or $47,313, to ensure that the Eliot-Hine MS library is adequately staffed. 

Maury ES. Concern about Transparency & Changes to Staffing Models.

The Maury ES initial allocation is $3,424,888, $101,351 more than the FY2014 budget allocation. However, this level of funding, due to a projected enrollment increase of 32 students, results in a net loss in funding – approximately a 6% reduction – on a per student basis. This continues a decline in per student funding from $10,173 in SY2012-13 to $9,761 for SY2013-14 to a proposed $9,461 for the upcoming school year, a net loss of $712 per student over two years despite significant cost savings within DCPS from closing schools and increased budgets (two percent in FY2014 and $100 million in FY2015). While the Maury ES budget has shrunk, its student population has grown by 52 students over two years and our test scores have improved dramatically, 29% gains in reading and 19% gains in math in 2013.

Due to an active and engaged PTA which provides generous support to students, teachers and administration, Maury ES is uniquely positioned among DCPS schools to absorb budget cuts and our school community, generally, believes that resources should go to those who need them most. However, the school community is greatly concerned that staffing allocations have not kept pace with the school’s growth. This concerns is demonstrative of the lack of detailed insight, strategic planning, and transparency in the local school budgeting process.

If you compare two schools, Maury ES and Brent ES, both in Ward 6 and with similar student demographics, you see remarkable differences in their initial budget allocations. In short, Brent ES sees an additional $646 per student than Maury ES despite similar enrollments, similar special needs and ELL populations and a lower FARM population. To move forward in creating a strong public school system, DCPS must provide accurate information on staffing models and information on adjustments to per student spending for special needs populations. This will allow school communities to make better informed decisions and to better plan for growth, ensuring that all schools can better plan and make strategic decisions to drive student attainment.

maury testimony

After appealing the Maury ES budget allocation to DCPS, the school community is slated to receive an adjustment to our funding allocation. Maury’s leadership has been informed that the school will gain an additional allocation for a “Related Arts Teacher” (Art/Music/World Language/Physical Education). The new allocation allows for the creation of a staffing plan that will keep the majority of our staffing and programming in place. However, Maury’s total budget allocation still falls well short of the promised 10% increase in funding and, as a result, the school will be unable to fully restore the mental health team and other support positions lost in the FY2014 budget as well as be unable to maintain all programming currently offered while adding new initiatives to further improve math and reading scores across the school. The development of this new staffing plan caused much angst among administration, teachers and parents. And, it was done with little ability to deliberate and collect information from school and community members because of the limited 6 day turnaround required by DCPS.

While the Maury community is pleased with the additional allocation that will allow the school to implement a strong staffing plan for SY2014-15, the community remains disappointed that the Chancellor failed to live up to her promise of changing the way DCPS budgeting is done and failed to provide promised new resources to our school.

Moving Forward.

I encourage you to reform the DCPS budgeting process to ensure openness and transparency. New initiatives must be announced early in the budget process and their impacts must be clearly communicated to local school communities.  Additionally, school communities must receive more time to analyze budgets and prepare staffing options for their schools.

I also encourage you to consider the following reforms to help accomplish our shared goals of moving our public school systems forward.

Updating Staffing Models.  DCPS needs to analyze, make changes to, and publicize its staffing models as well as amounts of additional allocations for special needs and FARM populations. The thresholds for staffing allocations for many positions – assistant principals, “Related Arts / Special Subjects” instructors, social workers/psychologists – is vague and often fails to meet the needs of students and school communities. Updated staffing models should be created in concert with national experts and community input and publicized so that individual school communities can know well in advance, based on their enrollment estimates and student demographics, the level of funding that they will receive. Completing this process will also help DCPS predict ideal enrollment size at each school, supporting the Deputy Mayor’s efforts to redraw school boundaries and realign feeder patterns.

Improving Enrollment Estimates. The District of Columbia MUST do a better job of estimating enrollment. School budgets are determined by estimates that often bear no resemblance to actual enrollment numbers which can dramatically shift from year to year as well as within the school year. DCPS should have a mandatory late spring enrollment deadline that will allow schools to adjust staffing models and reallocate staff to meet individual school needs even if this means that students lose their right to attend their neighborhood school because of capacity issues.

Implementing Ward 6 Middle School Plan.  In 2010, Chancellor Rhee came to Maury Elementary School to announce the Ward 6 Middle School Plan; Chancellor Henderson endorsed that plan upon being confirmed as chancellor.  However, progress in implementing the plan has been unsteady and benchmarks have not been met.  Rather than starting from scratch as the Chancellor proposed last fall, I encourage you to revisit this plan, developed with substantial community input, and see that it is updated and fully implemented. I encourage you to ensure that the infusion of resources into our city’s middle schools is not a one-time investment but rather that we continue current levels of support into future years to allow schools to develop programs and attract more students.

Moving Forward with Middle School Renovations. Eliot-Hine MS and Jefferson Academy MS are in desperate need of renovations. The schools lack modern technology and have inadequate lighting and poor acoustics.  If Washington, D.C. is to fulfill our promise to ensure all students have great middle schools, as well as promises made in the Ward 6 Middle School Plan, we must accelerate the timelines for moving these renovations forward. The city must ensure the successful launch of a new middle school at Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan, by ensuring it has state of the art facilities and adequate staffing and supplies, as outlined in the Ward 6 middle school plan.

Concluding Thoughts.

While transparency is a major concern, ultimately, our city’s ability to create more schools of choice will require better planning within DCPS as well as better coordination between DCPS and the public charter schools. While the common lottery is a significant step forward, the lack of mandatory early enrollment deadlines – DCPS students can still show up to their in-bounds school on the first day without being enrolled and regardless of the school’s capacity – and the on-going practice of students transferring mid-year from public charters into DCPS schools will continue to be major obstacles to creating sustainable, high-preforming schools.

I’d also like to thank the Deputy Mayor for moving forward an effort to redraw boundaries and realign feeder patterns. While I have my doubts, personally, that the boundary realignment process will, alone, be successful in helping to create more stable enrollment patterns, I applaud the effort and believe that it is needed.

On behalf of parents at both Maury ES and Eliot-Hine MS, I thank you for your support of our schools. While we were disappointed with the many broken promises made about the budget process being “different,” we are satisfied that we can create staffing plans that will allow us to move forward in our efforts to create a strong pathway from elementary school to Eastern High School.


DC Public Schools FY15 Budget Hearing Testimony by Danica Petroshius – CHML

Thank you Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor Smith and Superintendent Aguirre for holding this important hearing.

I am Danica Petroshius, President of the Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan PTSO and parent of two children at the school – one in Kindergarten and one in preschool 3. I am here, like Khai, because we want to work in partnership with you to build a great DCPS middle grades education campus.

In January 2013, DCPS announced that CHML would expand to include the middle grades starting in August 2014. That helped us keep families in our school for 5th and 6th grades – families that would have otherwise left for other middle schools. Unfortunately, ten months after that announcement, DCPS had provided no resources to make the expansion a reality.

Therefore, in November 2013, we sent letters to Mayor Gray and Chancellor Henderson, held initial meetings with John McGaw and, later with John Davis, to detail our community’s needs. Unfortunately, prior to hearing any responses, we were stunned to read in the Washington Post that CHML was cut in the budget reprogramming. We were further disappointed to receive Mr. McGaw’s email stating that “modest improvements… should suffice until a stronger enrollment is built for the middle grades.”  We feel we are being told, “if you come, we might build it.”

We got some good news this week – our principal says that DCPS has provided a strong operational budget that will allow us to have the personnel and some of the learning materials to kick off our middle grades expansion. Thank you.

But the fact remains that parents and students will be angry and shocked if there is nothing to come to. We need more than a few upgrades to toilets. We need a strong, welcoming middle grades learning environment.

When you approved a middle grades expansion, we parents began working in partnership with our principal, teachers and other stakeholders to prepare for the middle school expansion. We implemented teacher recruitment strategies, created architectural site plans, executed a plan to retain current families and recruit new ones. And as Khai mentioned it worked – our lottery numbers are high which is remarkable given that we don’t even have a place to for them to envision their children learning.

As you know, we parents can be demanding and outspoken. I’m a “Type-A” handful for any principal. Our Principal, Brandon Eatman, has been a great and patient leader. But our parents are losing faith in the system that he says we should support. We stand ready to support our principal as he leads our expansion effort. But he and our students need your support to make this promise a reality.

We ask that you provide the $1 million in capital funding we requested in November to turn our empty, preschool-sized, temporary trailer into a vibrant middle grades learning environment. Please don’t set us up to fail. Instead, do what is necessary to give our school community the confidence that our leaders stand with, and for, our children. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.


Testimony of Danica Petroshius, Parent and President of the

Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Education Campus PTSO

March 20, 2014


DC Public Schools FY15 Budget Hearing Testimony by Kevin White – CHCS

Good evening.  My name is Kevin White and I am here to represent the 540 students at Watkins Elementary in Ward 6.

This winter was hard at Watkins.  Frigid temperatures and windy polar vortices were challenging for our 50 year old windows and burdened heating system.  Just last week, several classrooms spent instructional time and indoor recess in the hall because the classrooms were too cold with the wind coming through windows that are sealed and closed with duct tape.

We are relieved to have been allocated $1.5 million in FY 14 for the replacement of these windows.  Window replacement is long overdue.  But this should not give DCPS the false sense that the worst conditions at Watkins will have been addressed.   While some emergency repairs have been completed since 2008, the Master Facility Plan from that time ranked 7 out of the 10 major building systems as Poor or Unsatisfactory.   Additionally, reviewing the Education Specification for Watkins reveals that 85% of our classrooms are too small, our specials rooms are undersized by a factor of 32%, and we lack the multi-purpose/gymnasium space that should be provided to a school with over 500 students and a co-located DPR Rec Center.

The needs at Watkins are too substantial and too well-documented to be ignored or delayed further.  Watkins can not be ignored while DCPS and DGS brag about Gold LEED status and geothermal technology at other schools.  Watkins can not be ignored while DCPS considers investing supplemental capital resources in several schools that have already been modernized within the last 7 years. Meanwhile, the Capital Improvement Plan stretches out modernization for Watkins all the way to FY19.  Phase 1 is projected to start in FY15 but we’ve been pushed back twice before.  We can’t be pushed back again.

We are ready to work with the DCPS, DPR, and DGS to begin planning for our modernization.  We have already created a parent-led modernization committee.  We’ve reviewed the Ed Spec and completed our own building wide space survey.  We are ready to partner with you and formally begin the planning process.

Watkins Can’t Wait for our new windows to be installed this summer.  But, Watkins Can’t Wait even longer for our full modernization to begin.   Thank you for your time.


Testimony of

Kevin White

Parent at the Capitol Hill Cluster School and

PTA Parent Representative at Watkins Elementary

521 14th Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

Fiscal Year 2015 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cardozo Education Campus

1200 Clifton Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009


DC Public Schools FY15 Budget Hearing Testimony by Elizabeth Bacon, CHCS

I am Elizabeth Bacon, and I’m here to represent the PTA and LSAT at the Capitol Hill Cluster School. 

We are a PK3 through 8th grade school with 1,300 students at three campuses — with steady enrollment, strong test scores, healthy vertical integration, and the ability to attract students from all over the city.

We are grateful for the increases in the recently released budget. It’s heartening to see investment in our school. This bump allowed Watkins Elementary to recover from severe staffing cuts last year, and add instructional aides that our PTA has paid for in the past two years. At Stuart-Hobson Middle School, we are also able to add staff and pay for popular 9th period extension classes that are now paid for by PTA.

But we don’t see any evidence of investments to help our highest need population. Our LSAT wasn’t given any data to show numbers of at-risk students, or guidance about how to allocate funds to make a difference for those students. Where is the additional support for at-risk kids, as intended by the Fair Funding Act? Is it lumped in with the large “per pupil minimum funding minimum” line item?

Transparency & Continuity

Even with increases, we still need transparency. Parents and the public deserve to be able to understand our school budgets.

And especially with increases, we need continuity. At the Cluster, we’ve seen dramatic swings in funding: down the past two years with an upswing this year. School leaders and parents want to know that DCPS is willing to stand behind and sustain these investments.

As part of the PTA leadership at the Cluster, I worked closely with the administration during the hectic PWP application process. The announcement came with so little specifics, but we kicked into gear, pulled together a survey, and scheduled a time for parent leaders and teachers to collaborate. All within 5 days. Is that really the best approach to make decisions about how to fund exciting and creative initiatives and programs? And, I wonder, do we really make students happier by infusing a large amount of restricted money for one year?

Out of School Time (OST)

On the topic of Out of School Time, despite the increases in our school budget, two teachers were cut from our aftercare budget. We understand this is due to “low attendance,” which we only learned about at budget time. According to DCPS, only 80 OST slots were being used out of the 100 allocated to us. So, funding for those 20 slots was scooped back.

This decision is not at all in line with our school’s needs. About 200 of our students are eligible for subsidized aftercare. Given that, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to open some of the unused OST slots to students who currently use the free Rec program – because of OST’s stronger emphasis on after school homework assistance?  Rather than just cut two teachers from our aftercare budget?



In summary, I’ll reiterate that even with the welcome increases in our budget, we still need transparency. Parents and the public deserve to be able to understand our school budgets.


Elizabeth Bacon

Parent at the Capitol Hill Cluster School and Vice President of the Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA

418 7th Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002

Fiscal Year 2015 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cardozo Education Campus

1200 Clifton Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009