DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Mary Melchoir, CHM at Logan EC

Happy Thursday council members, staff and fellow citizens. My name is Mary Melchior. I am a resident of Brookland in ward 5 and have three 6th grade boys at the Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan.  Our school is adding a grade each year expanding up to 8th grade creating the first adolescent Montessori program in DC.


As a member of the ward five council on education we struggled for years after our community middle school was closed and our elementary schools were converted to PK-8 campuses to see our schools get the basic facility components. These schools were left without labs, or basic middle school offerings for years.


It seems in approving the middle grades program at Logan DCPS is repeating the same mistakes. No funding has been provided to update the building our middle graders will be using. No science lab, no technology, no basics. Just two years ago $147,000 was spent to renovate this same building to house the School within a School program.  This was always intended to be a temporary facility for them.  Now there are zero dollars to upgrade that same building for middle grade students for a program intended to be a permanent expansion.


My family has become the disheartening example for our school community. We chose to stay at Logan due to the strength of the program, staff and teachers and DCPS’s stated commitment to our middle grades program. We did not move to our guaranteed slot at Stuart-Hobson, or other options at McKinley tech middle school or a charter. Now they have pulled the rug out from under us. The building renovation is cancelled, our guarantee to spots at Stuart Hobson are gone, McKinley we are wait listed, middle grades charters largely don’t accept 7th graders. Our choice is gone and we are pointed to by other families at Logan that we can’t trust the city and DCPS to provide just the basics for our students.


It also speaks to the general mismanagement of school renovations since mayoral control.  The IG did a report outlining much of it under Mayor Fenty but I think many of the same problems exist.  The original Master Facilities Plan assessed the condition of buildings and planned their renovations due to basic conditions, worst buildings first.  Now we have a standard of the order of school renovations is a matter of mayoral whim.  There may be standards, but they are not explained and the public has no input. The MFP also planned to keep a number of our closed schools in inventory until after the major renovations were finished.  That would have allowed the system to do long term planning and avoid rush costs in renovations by moving students to another building for the year a building was renovated.  Not doing this has not served the taxpayer or DCPS, and the cost increases due to turning these buildings over to charters rather than use them as swing spaces are used as a reason to indicate that charters should get more facilities money.    Also SITs are formed too late to do proper planning leading to projects having large cost overruns and probably not the best designs for their purpose.  Thank you very much for your consideration.


Testimony of

Mary Melchior

Parent at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Education Campus

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Vincent Morris, CHCS

Good morning Chairman Catania and other members of the Council. My name is Vincent Morris and I am the President of the PTA for Peabody Pre-K, Watkins Elementary and Stuart Hobson Middle School – the Cluster school.

I have three daughters: one each in 6th, 4th and 2nd grade and I, like many of the parents who are engaged in public education, feel very strongly that school reforms and improvements can’t come soon enough.

This is an urgent issue for us and we support taking bold action to improve the school system to benefit all students in all wards. By that, I mean less focus on test scores, more programs to keep families from skipping off to charter or private schools and a full embrace of the effort to modernize school boundaries so they are logical and build community.

I’m going to begin by giving everyone a quick overview of the Cluster and some of our top areas of concern.

For starters, when you think of the Cluster, you probably think of Capitol Hill.

That’s not wrong but today the Cluster is composed primarily of students who live in Wards 7 and 8 and 4 and 5. We attract students from all corners of the city because the program at our school is among the best and most exciting east of Rock Creek Park.

We have one outstanding principal – Dawn Clemens – in charge of 3 school buildings and more than 1,200 students. The helps align the campus vertically and thematically but also gives parents a level of certainty and familiarity for their children from age 3 to 13.

Because of that size, year to year fluctuations in funding can cause real problems at all grades. So we’ve asked in the past and will ask again this year for consistent funding for our operating budget.

We also feel pretty strongly that Kaya Henderson has not followed through across the board on commitments to give middle schools new investments and a path to excellence. At Hobson our FARM population is triple that of Deal, our students are overwhelmingly African American and we have more poor families than that school – yet we are constantly under the gun advocating for resources.

At Stuart, we consistently do more with less.

On a related note, as you know our middle school does not have a full size athletic field for students and athletes. We argued for the construction of an underground parking garage to maximize green space for the school and neighborhood – just like DCPS did for schools like Janney in Ward 3 and will do for Duke Ellington in Ward 2. Others will speak more about this but I will say to you Chairman Catania that I appreciate your willingness to wade into this issue in an attempt to come up with logical alternatives.

While we argue about finishing the renovation at Hobson, the children at Watkins attend school each day in a building that is one of the most run down in the whole city.

The bathrooms never smell right and sometimes stop working. This winter we had leaks in the roof and water dripped into a classroom. Some of our heating units went out and students were forced to wear jackets, while other parts of the school were like a sauna. And windows are in many places taped shut to keep out squirrels, pollen and the elements.  I won’t even get into the broader issues about the small spaces and dated layout.

It’s not logical for DCPS to push back the funding for Watkins by another year as the new budget for Fiscal Year 2015 proposes. If anything, the budget should be moved up and DCPS should take a good look at its facilities and programs and ask themselves why they’d impose a delay on Watkins and the 500 students and engaged parents there.

Finally, I want to say a word about the school nurse situation at Watkins. Unlike 90 percent of DC schools, we don’t have a full time nurse – which I’ve been told is because our students do not have as many chronic or profound health care issues or sicknesses as other schools.

By that logic, we could close ambulance service near Foggy Bottom because college students are healthy and close fire stations near Capitol Hill because everything is built with bricks and is less likely to catch fire.

In closing, I encourage the Council to work closely with the Chancellor on the budget during the next few months. I think DCPS has been spending money on the school system it wishes it was, rather than on the school system that it is. That needs to change.


Testimony of



Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500


DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Elizabeth Bacon, Watkins ES

Good morning. I’m Elizabeth Bacon, a parent at Watkins Elementary School. I serve on the Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA leadership and on the LSAT, and I’ve spent many hours investigating our school budget.

The Cluster School is a Pre-K3 through 8th grade school with 1,300 students at three campuses (Peabody Early Childhood, Watkins Elementary, and Stuart-Hobson Middle School) — with steady enrollment, strong test scores, healthy vertical integration, and students from all over the city.

Per Pupil Funding Minimum (PPFM) Allocation

Over the years, we’ve dealt with funding fluctuations because of enrollment changes and the budgeting premise that there should be a minimum “per pupil spend.” This year, we were fortunate — Watkins received a welcome extra lump sum of $379,000 in order to meet the per pupil funding minimum (PPFM) floor.

This extra funding was meaningful: it allows us to more adequately staff our school of more than 500 students. But because this extra funding is an accounting loophole in the staffing formula for large schools, we worry that we will not be able to count on it next year. What will happen if the DCPS staffing model changes, and the “floor” changes? That means we could again lose staffing: our instructional aides, our counselor and a technology coordinator.  DCPS would say that’s just the way the funding “floor” worked out. But there shouldn’t be so much variance from year to year in funding floors and staffing models. It makes it hard for schools to maintain continuity in programs and staff.

We are also concerned how this bump to reach the “floor” is going to many schools with fewer needs. For example, Deal Middle School received a $2 million lump sum to reach the floor — that’s an extra $1679 per student. What a boon a sum even half that size would have been for Stuart-Hobson Middle School.


Middle School Projected Enrollment FARM (SY 2013-14) Per student amount from the PPFF minimum “bump” in FY15 Level of studentperformance
Deal MS 1310 21% $1679 per student Reward
Stuart-Hobson MS 424 57% $0 per student Rising
Hardy 400 55% $0 per student Rising
Jefferson 307 99% $0 per student Reward
Eliot-Hine 275 99% $0 per student Rising

Of the 5 DCPS elementary schools receiving the PPFM in FY15, Watkins has by far the highest number of FARM-eligible students and the second to lowest per pupil funding minimum allocation. Of these 5 schools, Watkins is the only school on the list that is below “reward” in student performance, which is another indicator of need.


Elementary School Projected Enrollment FARM (SY 2013-14) PPFF minimum in FY15 Level of studentperformance
Lafayette ES 700 7% $883,418 Reward
Murch ES 680 9% $722,699 Reward
Janney ES 672 4% $864,355 Reward
Eaton ES 477 17% $131,565 Reward
Watkins ES 523 38% $379,176 Rising

At-risk Student Funding & Additional Investment

I followed with great interest the passage of the Fair Funding Act, the Adequacy Study commissioned by the Deputy Mayor of Education, the Chancellor’s top goal to improve middle schools, and the Chancellor’s direction to LSATs to plan for a 10% increase in funding.

Come budget time, I and my fellow education advocates were anticipating additional money to support our school, particularly our at-risk students and middle schools. But in the Cluster School budget, I saw:

  • No allocation to our school marked for at-risk kids and no specific data breakdown for our at-risk students population, according to the categories in the Fair Funding Act
  • No direction to our administration or LSAT to determine how to spend additional funds to really make an impact for the kids who need the most support
  • No sign of additional investment for our middle school beyond  $100,000 extra for “socio-emotional support” (As an aside, an example of real investment would be support specialized programs at each of the Ward 6 middle schools, as DCPS agreed to four years ago — in the Ward 6 Middle Schools Plan — but has yet not funded.)
  • The PWP Student Satisfaction allotment included in the top-line of the budget — which seemed somewhat disingenuous given that money was already spoken for and had came with many strings attached
  • No significant increase in overall funding, as the Chancellor had all but promised

Where exactly is the additional $44 million in support for at-risk kids? Is most of it going to the lowest 40 performing schools? To other “Chancellor’s initiatives”? To the PWP Student Satisfaction allocations?

Where is the explicit investment in our middle schools, as one of the top goals of this budget cycle? To extended day for some middle schools? To socio-emotional support?

Parents and the public deserve answers to these questions from DCPS in a transparent and upfront accounting.

Investment & Continuity

If we really believe in the potential of our public schools — and if we are committed to their success — we need investment and we need continuity in funding. We need investments in our programs and staff and continuity in those investments — not less-than-predictable fluctuations year to year. And we need investments in our fully utilized school buildings — especially not to be asked to wait another year for modern facilities at Watkins Elementary.


Testimony of

Elizabeth Bacon

Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA and LSAT Representative 

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500


DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Kevin White, Watkins ES

Good morning.  My name is Kevin White.  I will have a 4th grader and a 1st grader at Watkins next year.  Ms. Reese’s testimony has very clearly outlined many of the physical needs at Watkins.   There are many more, such as an original out of date elevator (out of operations for the last month), an exterior façade which doesn’t keep rain out of classrooms, an undersized kitchen that can’t efficiently serve our children lunch in the time available, and the complications around sharing space with a co-located DPR recreation center (when the school is already overcrowded).

I could go on, but my testimony today will focus on some global questions with respect to the funding proposals advanced in Mayor Gray’s 6-year CIP budget proposal.

Where is the unbiased planning and rational implementation for school modernizations?

Why does the Mayor propose re-opening Spingarn High School with a commitment of $31 million in FY15 when the school was just closed in 2013?    Why is opening another high school a budget priority when there are several newly renovated DCPS high schools which are under enrolled and under capacity? Why is Spingarn a priority over a fully-enrolled and over crowded elementary school?

Why does the Mayor prioritize additional capital improvements totaling $58 million for five elementary schools[i] that have already received enhanced phase 1 modernizations as recently as 2012 and 2013 when schools like Watkins[ii] do not meet current building code standards?  Sure, temporary buildings are not ideal, but they are in far better condition than the 52-year old Watkins building.  So why must Watkins continue to wait for initial stabilizing investments while others get multiple investments in less than three years?

The Mayor’s budget proposal invests nearly $17m for Goding over a 5-year period starting in FY15.  This eclipses the total proposed investment at Watkins over the same period and includes a second phase 1 modernization for Goding, which already received a phase 1 modernization in 2005 and additional improvements just last year.  It should also be noted that the Goding building isn’t even at 100% capacity.  What does this building really require in the near term that could possibly trump the substandard and unsafe conditions at Watkins that have yet to be addressed?

I urge the District government to begin making rational decisions about school modernization based on observable and quantifiable building conditions.

Let’s not confuse the feel-good nature of supporting again and again the sought-after schools with doing the right thing –

✓  correcting deplorable conditions of buildings in the worst shape prior to making supplementary investments at schools that have already been stabilized.

Let’s not confuse the desire to be responsive to well-coordinated, and sophisticated advocacy efforts with doing the right thing –

✓  responding to the well-documented needs of the most decrepit buildings first and in a deliberate, rational, and equitable manner.

Watkins can’t wait another 2 years for its phase 1 modernization.  Thank you for your consideration.



School Enhanced Phase 1 Completed Proposed FY 15 Capital Improvement Program Addition
Hearst Elementary 2012 / 2013 $14,500,000 Yes
Mann Elementary 2012 / 2013 $5,500,000 Yes
Powell Elementary 2012 $9,909,000 Yes
Shepherd Elementary 2013 $8,167,000 Yes
Lafayette Elementary 2013 $20,341,000 Yes
  TOTAL $58,417,000  
Watkins Elementary Not applicable. $0 Needed, but unknown if DC Government will make the commitment


[ii] Murch and Garrison come to mind as other schools whose initial investments have been bumped back while other schools have enjoyed multiple years of supplemental investments.  However, Murch and Garrison appear to be set to be very well cared for in the next three years.  Murch is proposed to receive $40.3 million between FY15 – FY17.  Garrison is proposed to receive $38,000 between FY 15 – FY17.  During the same period, Watkins will receive just $14.2 million in capital investments.


Testimony of

Kevin White

Parent at Watkins Elementary

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Bernetta Reese, Watkins ES

Good morning.  My name is Bernetta Reese and I am here to represent 540 students at Watkins Elementary.  I have 2 students in the first and third grade at the school. As a parent and representative of my school community, I want to say to you today that I am disappointed that Mayor Gray’s budget has pushed Watkins modernization back to Fiscal Year 2016 which means it has been moved back three times in the last four budget cycles.  Watkins can no longer wait for modernization.  Our school has many issues that need to be addressed.


In the 2008 DCPS Master Facility Plan for Watkins, 7 of the 10 major building systems as were marked as “Poor” or “Unsatisfactory.”  The school does not meet current building code standards and physical deficiencies are well-documented in the report.  The fire alarm system is non-compliant and the building does not have a sprinkler system.  This is especially concerning given that last year, there were two gas leaks at the school and the building had to be evacuated.  This is an urgent matter that affects the learning environment and safety of our children.


In addition, Watkins building temperature is such that students have had to wear winter coats with hoods depending on where they are in the building. During the week of DCCAS, air conditioning was needed but it was not available – making the learning and testing environment more difficult for our students.


The DCPS Education Specification for Watkins reveals that 85% of our classrooms are too small which means our school is overcrowded.  Our multipurpose room/cafeteria is less than half the size it should be for a combined use room.  Because of this, indoor recess is held in a 1200 square foot room converted from classroom space.  This space is just 36% of the size that it should be.

We appreciate the effort by this Committee last year to secure funding for new windows to be installed this summer.  But it’s not enough and Watkins cannot be ignored for another 2 years. We are in dire need for phase 1 of the modernization to begin to provide our children with a healthy and safer school.  Thank you for your time.


Testimony of

Bernetta Reese

Parent at Watkins Elementary

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500


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




$400 Million – by Peter MacPherson

by Pether MacPherson

Dear Friends:


Some of you may not be aware that last week the news was released that the city has a $400 million budget surplus. This is far in excess of the $140 million that was reported back in November. There are many worthwhile projects that could benefit from access to these funds. I’m hoping you’ll join with me in using a portion of these monies to address some severe shortcomings and inequalities that exist in the District of Columbia Public Schools. The needs fall in three areas: libraries, technology and music. We’ve made considerable progress on the library issue in the past year. The chancellor has publicly committed herself to a library and librarian in every school. Unfortunately the libraries need much more help. In most schools the library collections are old and thin or non-existent. Anacostia High School has a media center with no books. H.D. Woodson High School has 400. It should have 16,400. The average age of the books in Eastern High School’s small collection is 1980. The average age of the books at Watkins Elementary School is 1993. And even Wilson High School has a collection that is only half the size it should be. The libraries need a massive influx of new resources. Spending $14 million to $16 million would allow DCPS to bring most of its libraries to accepted norms in terms of collection size. It would give each school at least 30 periodical subscriptions and give students access to a much larger number of databases. It would allow the creation of a 40,000 volume digital library and give schools the eReaders needed to access these digital assets. And money would be available to upgrade library spaces in a poor state of repair.

The second area where the poverty in DCPS is profound is in technology. The limited presence of computers in many schools is quite profound. And even schools that have gone through modernization often received no computers or the ones they did are reaching the end of their useful life. At Maury Elementary School, for example, no computers were provided as part of its renovation. The school has two carts of laptops bought by the PTA. At Watkins, the computer lab is full of eight-year-old eMacs bought by the PTA. They are no longer supported and once they fail have to be removed. And no replacement is available. DCPS needs 15,000 computers, at a cost of $15 million.

Finally, the music programs are in very poor shape as a result of being starved for resources. I was in a District  elementary school music class recently and there weren’t nearly enough instruments to go around. One child ended up using an empty copy paper box as a drum. DCPS needs $1 million in new instruments. It needs 60 new upright and 20 new grand pianos as well as new music software and access to online music libraries. The need in this area is around $2.8 million.

The hole that DCPS is in prevents making much improvement simply using the operating budget. All schools would benefit from this investment and it would allow the city to bring some equity to resources all schools should have. And there are programs stakeholders want–like International Baccalaureate–that require properly staff and resourced libraries. And none are present in the schools currently angling for this certification. In addition there is no currently mechanism to buy books for modernized schools. Right now we’re looking at the prospect of Dunbar High School and the new Ward Five middle school opening with no new books.

We now have a special opportunity to fix these problems and, in the process, greatly improve DCPS. A vibrant DCPS is key to the future of this city. The need here is between $35 million and $40 million. I’ve written the mayor and council and asked them to divert some of the surplus funds to deal with these issues. I hope you’ll do the same. The appropriate email addresses are listed below.

Peter MacPherson
pmacpher at