Sarah Wolf Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Sarah Wolf, Peabody Elementary School 

Testimony to the DCPS Public Budget Hearing, October 29, 2019

Good evening Chancellor Ferebee and Deputy Chancellor Maisterra

My name is Sarah Wolf and I am the parent of a kindergarten student at Peabody Elementary School. I have been a DC resident since 2003 and currently live in Ward 6. I am also a member of the Peabody School Improvement Team, which was set up in September 2019 to address safety and maintenance concerns on the school playground.

Peabody is the early education campus of the Capitol Hill Cluster School in Ward 6. It educates 226 students in grades PK3, PK4 and Kindergarten. Peabody is a diverse school that draws students primarily from the Capitol Hill neighborhood: 81 percent of students attending are in-boundary. Eight percent of students are economically disadvantaged and five percent have special needs.

In 2018, when our son Roman was offered a PK4 spot at Peabody through the DCPS lottery we were delighted. Peabody prides itself on providing a joyful learning environment for kids ages 3-6 years old. The school is a bright, cheerful place decorated with kids’ artwork, the teachers are kind, and the program provides a gentle introduction to school life. My son loves it.

So, you can imagine my shock on the first day of school, at dismissal, to see Peabody staff attempting to drive out of their parking spaces in a playground full of little children. The situation struck me as potentially dangerous and not at all in keeping with the safe, supportive learning environment that Peabody endeavors to provide.

Over the course of the last and this academic year, I, along with other parents, have witnessed many close calls between kids and cars. The school has a policy of “honk and freeze.” The teachers honk their horns, the kids are supposed to freeze. However, we have seen kids completely ignore the honk and instead of freezing, run straight towards the moving car. We have witnessed kids obey the honk and freeze but freeze behind a car that is backing up. We have seen 10-12 cars that are double parked, maneuver through a busy playground with parents and caregivers trying to direct traffic and kids still run in front of cars. We have helped cars to back up, only to see a three year old on a tricycle ride behind the cars. In all cases, accidents were avoided due to the efforts of parents and drivers working together to keep kids safe. But other times, it was pure luck that the child running behind the car did not get hit. These close calls are too frequent and put our children in an unnecessarily risky situation. 

Playgrounds were established to provide a safe place for kids to play that is free from cars. I cannot believe that if the city were designing a new playground today, they would place cars within it with no barriers or fencing to separate the kids. The Mayor’s Vision Zero Initiative seeks to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians. I find it inconsistent that the city focuses on pedestrian safety on the way to and from school, but once at the school site, there are no such safety or traffic measures in place.

In addition to parents worrying about keeping their kids safe from cars, the playground itself has become over the years, unsafe. There are three main problems that are leading to injuries including scrapes, bruises and broken bones.

  1. The playground surfacing includes blacktop, poured rubber and wood chips. The blacktop and poured rubber have uneven surfaces, gaps and sinkholes, and provides insufficient padding in some places, especially under ladders. A week ago, a Peabody parent reported that her four year old daughter tripped on the surfacing and fell onto the corner of a picnic table getting a black eye. The same week, a four year old Peabody boy fell off a ladder and badly scraped his forehead. Another Peabody parent says her PK3 and Kindergarten kids come home almost every day with scrapes on knees and elbows from falling on the blacktop.

  2. The playground equipment is between 15-25 years old and no longer meets current safety standards. One structure in particular (orange/blue) is not age appropriate for students who are three and four years old — who are the majority of Peabody students.

    According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook, monkey bars are not intended for children ages three or younger, and for children ages four and above, the structure should be no higher than 60 inches. The Peabody monkey bars are 77 inches in height. A Peabody parent reports that in 2017 her four year old daughter fell off the monkey bars and fractured her elbow. A three year old boy also fell off the same monkey bars and had severe bruising. His mother says the only reason he didn’t break his arm was because he is such a tall and heavy child. The same handbook says sliding poles should not be used in playgrounds for preschool students. The Peabody playground has three sliding poles measuring between 85-100 inches in height. In 2017, a five year old boy fell off the pole and broke his elbow in two places. He had to be hospitalized and had three pins inserted into his arm.

  3. In addition to the equipment not meeting current safety standards, the equipment itself is old and not well maintained. The coating on the play structures is peeling off, exposing rust and creating sharp edges that poke into kids’ hands. For awhile, yellow safety tape was put up on the chain climbers. It seems to have been removed yet the sharp edges remain.

In summary, the playground is in need of an overhaul.

In 2013, Peabody received funding for Phase 1 Modernization under the 10-year DCPS School Modernization Plan. The Education Spec included renovating floors and ceilings, improving lighting and electrical, and upgrading IT, water lines, service lines and HVAC systems. The playground was not included.

I understand that DCPS has abandoned the phased modernization process and now uses the PACE model to prioritize schools for modernization. Given Peabody’s current rank of #30 (out of 32) on the modernization priority list, we would not receive full modernization funding until at least 2024 but likely many years later as there are higher priority schools. However, I am aware that outside of modernization funding, there is a city-wide Capital Improvement Plan as well as stabilization funding available to address repairs of school buildings and athletic fields.

One solution to the car safety problem would be to create a daytime school parking zone under the law that was passed last year. We are working with our ANC Commissioner and gathering data to submit a formal request. Another solution is to redesign the Peabody site to include separate spaces for cars to park and for kids to play. There also needs to be an interim solution that does not rely on children ages 3-6 to be always conscious of cars. The playground is supposed to be space for kids to play, exercise their bodies, and stretch their imaginations without worrying about moving cars. We cannot wait for an accident to happen.

I, representing the Peabody community, urge the Education Chancellor to address the Peabody safety concerns in the next DCPS budget. 

Jessica Sutter Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Maury Elementary School

Thank you Chancellor Ferebee for the chance to speak this evening. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I am testifying today in my personal capacity.

Over the past year I’ve toured DCPS schools all across Ward 6. And as I have chatted with principals and staff, I have noticed a consistent theme about resources in our schools – inequity.

We talk about “neighborhood public schools of right” as though they are an equal opportunity public resource. But, touring our Ward 6 schools makes it clear: our neighborhood schools are resourced in inequitable ways. Much of that inequity is driven by unequal access to resources outside of the UPSFF.

Maury Elementary, where we sit today, is my zoned neighborhood school. I toured this beautiful new facility earlier this month and listened as parent tour guides educated community members about the school. I learned that every classroom has a teacher’s aide and that the PTA fundraises to hire those staff. I also learned that Maury students have Chinese language instruction as a special and that every 5th grader gets to go to space camp, again thanks to the generosity of a year-long fundraising effort. These are wonderful assets for a public school and ones I would be thrilled to see every child in the District be able to access. But, since these assets are outside our funding formula, students and families at Maury have a different experience of public education than schools without an active and dedicated PTA with significant fundraising capacity.

At Van Ness Elementary, an intentional school design focused on the whole child guides every decision about work in the school building – including budgeting. The core of the model is a thoughtful vision for elementary education: student well-being, students as makers & student ownership of learning. As I toured Van Ness with their partner organization, Transcend Learning, I saw joyful students in calm, productive classrooms designed to set just the right tone for helping students focus on the work of learning each day. I also learned that Van Ness has a full-time psychologist, a full-time social worker and two behavior techs with support from a consulting Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Principal Robinson-Rivers is candid about the outside grants they’ve secured to cover the cost of both the additional staffing and training for all school staff to make a model like theirs work, but she is also candid about her belief that this staffing is needed for ALL schools to adequately serve students.

As DCPS plans its budget for FY2021, I hope that the system will begin from a vision-level, rather than starting from the inequity we all know exists. What does it look like to serve the whole child in all of our schools in ways that are truly equitable? What kind of compensatory funding is needed to provide adequate staffing and capacity-building resources to schools that do not have the outside support of PTAs or innovation grants? What could it look like to make a model like Maury’s or Van Ness’ available to all students in all neighborhoods of all wards of the District? And what stands in our way?

If we fail, again, to view every school and student as worthy of opportunities, to start from an equitable foundation, we will continue to fail our students.

Thank you.

Cathy Reilly Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

October 29, 2019

Cathy Reilly for the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators

Thank you for this opportunity

I am here as the Executive Director of SHAPPE. I also facilitate the Ward 4 Ed Alliance and am a member of C4DC (Communities for DC Public Schools (C4DC)

We are in favor of a robust comprehensive staffing model that truly provides funding for required staff complimented by enrollment staffing.  It is our understanding that there will be more transparency this year.  I appreciate your outreach on both a budget and a potential strategic planning committee and welcome the opportunity to work closely with you.

Congratulations on the enrollment increase for DCPS and particularly on your statement at the press conference that more families are choosing their in boundary DCPS school.

Last year DCPS added application seats the high school level by opening Bard DC, and expanding Banneker.  Bard families are legitimately concerned about the promises made and how their building needs will be met.

It is my hope that this year there will be a focus on how to build on attracting families to the schools of right – strengthening the feeder patterns and strengthening the staffing and options at the neighborhood high schools.  These are difficult issues to balance between new schools DCPS has opened and its obligations to the schools of right.  We strongly support a 5 year DCPS master education planning process that would inform a master facility plan for DCPS. It could provide criteria and input as well as predictability and stability.

The priorities expressed in our SHAPPE meetings and echoed in other meetings:

  • Roosevelt HS Global Studies School and Roosevelt STAY have outgrown their ability to partner as currently configured day programs at the Roosevelt campus.  Roosevelt STAY has demonstrated their need for their own space as an Opportunity Academy operating during the day.  WE are working hard in Ward 4 to attract families at the secondary level.  Roosevelt HS had to close enrollment to any out of boundary students, they continue to take in boundary. The crowding and limited use of the building is hurting the program. Roosevelt STAY has also had to stop enrollment students.  We need a plan for next year, formulated now.
  • MacFarland, Ida B Wells, Coolidge and Roosevelt’s success in continuing to attract more students than predicted is good news for honoring the Student Assignment Committee’s recommendation for middle schools in Wards 1, 4 and 7.  This will strengthen the feeder patterns for Cardozo and Woodson.
  • A number of the comprehensive high schools spoke about the inadequacy of the special education funding and thus staffing especially in schools that surpassed their enrollment projection.  This concern came from many who are not part of that community but see the need.  Students qualifying for these funds represent a substantial percentage of the population in many of our high schools.  The dyslexia hearing made clear that we can do better at the ECE and elementary level in screening and supporting these students as well.
  • With the enrollment increase there has been a demand for additional teachers that has been impossible to meet in the fall.  A suggestion is to reinstate a provisional certification for otherwise qualified candidates.  Also teachers excessed even if they have taken the bonus in the past may be on a contact list that could be available.
  • Planning periods are not taken into account in the staffing formula at the secondary level.  This means there is little flexibility and we have large classes especially in crowded schools.
  • We hope the budget for next year can look at how to equitably support programs across our high schools with a long and stable view.  They are minimally supported now through some NAF or CTE funds.
  • We would also like to see more support for translation in schools with large populations of families who do not speak English. Currently this is dependent on the generosity of a staff member.
  • Stability matters, the cost of turnover is high not only teacher and principal turnover but turnover at the administrative offices in central.  We would like to work with you in the budget and planning process to communicate investment and value to the DCPS team along with accountability.

DCPS is a city agency dependent on other agencies for different services.  While we will continue to advocate to the mayor and the Council on issues, we also need your voice.  For example with DGS, we are dependent on DGS for critical repairs like the HVAC system at Roosevelt and the fact that there are still areas of the building without a PA system. Roosevelt is not alone in having problems with a PA system. This is the only way of notifying a school community of danger.  It is a critical safety issue.  Elementary schools in our feeder patterns that received a phase one modernization are hurting now as those repairs age out.  How can your input into the capital budget support them.

With the expansion of schools, now at some levels with more seats than there are children in the city who can fill them, we need your voice in support of DCPS as the infrastructure system of right in our city.

In closing, I look forward to working with you to build on the momentum of this enrollment increase, and to continue supporting our DC public schools. Thank you

Rebecca Davis Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Maury Elementary School

Thank-you for having a slide on EQUIITY, SUSTAINABIILITY & TRANSPARENCY since that is what II would like to address with regards to science education in DC Public Schools.

My name is Rebecca Davis I am an environmental education consultant and live in Ward 1 and work in Washington D.C.  I am contractor for MWCOG Clean Air Partners, and work on air quality and climate change education regionally. I am also a member of the DC Environmental Education Consortium- DCEEC one of the DCPS Science team Community Partners and as such have volunteered as a teacher trainer for Engineering is Elementary- EiE cornerstones.

I run the 1 min Climate Change film challenge with some funding from OSSE. And through OSSE ‘s Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant-ELAG funding I co-teach (Clean Air Partners) and Casey Trees a set of four investigations on air quality, its impact on our health and the role trees have in sequestering carbon and absorbing pollutants to 5th graders.

I stand before you as a witness to DCPS and DCPCS science education for the past 14 years. Equitable access to science education has been and continues to be an issue in DCPS.

I am excited that there are new science teaching requirements as of 2019 from The Office of Teaching and Learning. Science must now be taught (as a standalone subject) at minimum for:

  • 45 minutes/day (for the equivalent of at least one semester) in grades K-2
  • 30 minutes/day (for the entire school year) in grades 3-5

To understand DCPS’ commitment to this change I would like to make sure we appropriate the  funding necessary to the DCPS science team to enable them to sustain this change. To provide  professional development to ES teachers so that this additional 2 1/2hr of science instruction per week is valuable. And that a mechanism is put in place to hold ES accountable to implementing this new requirement.

It is the responsibility of a society that depends on science and technology, to educate and prepare its youths with basic science and engineering principles. It is our responsibility to have a student…

  • who has asthma know the basic structure and function of their respiratory system and know what triggers his/er asthma?
  • that understand food web and bioaccumulation so as to know not to eats fish s/he catches in the Anacostia?
  • to understand how trees grow and therefore understand how planting tree can mitigate climate change?
  • to know that phytoplankton provide more than half of the oxygen we breathe on Earth and therefore acts on keeping our ocean’s healthy?

Humans are born curious. I see my granddaughter less than a year old, testing the difference between a refrigerator sticker and a magnet, testing gravity with objects, testing velocity and friction with her body on playground slides. She doesn’t know yet, but she is playing with scientific principles or methods.

Our job as educators and parents is simple, it is to encourage curiosity and observations, embolden youths to ask a million questions (whether we know the answer or not) and support their countless experiments that follow. But let us be clear scientist don’t just do science experiments to test their hypothesis, they read about science, they write about science, and talk science. We can encourage our students to do the same. Science education is not an either-or, teaching science explicitly supports literacy and numeracy development and achievement.

Our job is to find ways to keep students interested in sciences as they finish elementary school when we see a significant drop off interest in science. Our job is to find ways to encourage interest in sciences and engineering through MS and HS , to create scientifically literate citizens who understand and can act on important issues  that will be facing their generation such as Climate Change and perhaps more importantly understanding health disparities  “life expectancy being shorter than their parents”.

We can do this by 1) increasing and having transparency regarding the science budget for DC public school if not in dollar amount then at least percentage compared to ELA, Math and Social Studies  2) developing ready set science cornerstones for all grade bands and providing PD  3)  assessing/measuring the success of the changes made to the Elementary Science Scheduling Requirements. As of 2019 The Office of Teaching and Learning requires that science be taught (as a standalone subject) at minimum for:

  • 45 minutes/day (for the equivalent of at least one semester) in grades K-2
  • 30 minutes/day (for the entire school year) in grades 3-5

As Neil deGrasse Tyson stated “ The problem in society is not kids not knowing science. The problem is adults not knowing science. They outnumber kids 5 to 1, they wield power, they write legislation. When you have scientifically illiterate adults, you have undermined the very fabric of what makes a nation wealthy and strong. “

Thank you for allowing me to address this important topic.

Rebecca Davis- rnjidavis (at) gmail (dot) com

 

 

 

Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Maury Elementary School

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening.  My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization, and our organization is a member of the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities or C4DC.

First, I want to congratulate DCPS on the enrollment increase it saw for SY 2019-2020. DCPS now enrolls more than 51,000 students, and there was a 4% growth in in-boundary enrollment.  This enrollment growth is due to the hard work of principals and teachers, the efforts of the DCPS enrollment team to promote feeder patterns, the modernization of our city’s school buildings, the confidence families have in DCPS and much more.  This year’s enrollment growth gives us hope DCPS will meet, and hopefully exceed, it’s enrollment target of 54,000 by 2022.  This hard work must continue because there is still much work to be done to ensure every neighborhood has a high-quality, by-right school.  It can’t be emphasized enough that enrollment growth is important because school budgets are determined primarily by a school’s enrollment.

Currently, schools are allocated funds to support a Comprehensive Staffing Model.  This model ensures a baseline number of teachers, administrators, related arts teachers, and other staff.  The City Council has proposed legislation, and there have been discussions at DCPS, to move towards a School Based Budgeting model.  Ensuring all schools have librarians, music, art and PE teachers is important to ensuring a well-rounded education for children.  I strongly encourage DCPS to conduct careful analyses on comparisons between the Comprehensive Staffing Model and any new budget model considered in order to fully understand any trade-offs made before moving to a new model.  I encourage DCPS to engage stakeholders early in the process of analyzing the impacts of a new model.

Members of our organization have been very involved in ensuring at-risk funds are used in ways that are expected to improve student achievement. In the past, at-risk funds have been used for purposes not directly related to supporting at-risk youth.  I encourage DCPS to share more with schools the available research-based evidence as to what has been impactful in raising performance among at-risk youth to help inform school-based decisions, and to ensure school budgets are transparent about how at-risk funds are used.

Our members have also advocated for DCPS to continue funding for school technology and the Empowered Learners Initiative in the 2021 budget. We will not achieve digital equity until students in all grades have access to working computers, as well as support for becoming computer literate.

Finally, in looking at the FY2019 approved budget for the Public Education System, it lists over $63 million for non-public tuition and $90 million for special education transportation.  I believe these line numbers are directly related to DCPS not providing adequate educational services for special education youth at our neighborhood schools.  As DCPS works to strengthen its by right public school system, I encourage DCPS to always use its lens of promoting equity and work to support more students with special needs at our neighborhood schools.

Grace Hu Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Grace Hu

October 29, 2019

Digital Equity in DC Education

DigitalEquityDC@gmail.com

DCPS Budget Hearing

Good evening. My name is Grace Hu and I am a parent and LSAT member at Amidon-Bowen Elementary in Southwest DC. Today I am here on behalf of Digital Equity in DC Education, a citywide coalition of parents, to discuss the continuing technology gaps in our schools.

More Work Needed to Achieve Digital Equity

Last year we began an advocacy effort to address the unreliable and outdated technology in a school system that is heavily reliant on computer-based testing–from everything from reading and math intervention programs, to beginning- and end-of-year assessments in multiple subjects and the high-stakes PARCC test. Despite this reliance on computers, the burden has been on individual schools to find the money to refresh their technology and many have struggled to do this.

While we appreciate the $4.6 million in the mayor’s 2020 budget for student computers (as part of DCPS’s new Empowered Learners Initiative), one-year funding is not enough for closing the digital divide in our schools. We urge DCPS to follow through and provide funding in the 2021 budget to continue to move schools to a 1:1 student-device ratio. Additionally, we urge DCPS to take the following into consideration:

  1. Empowering Students to Use Technology

Simply providing computer hardware won’t result in digital equity. While many kids use smartphones and social media, they lack knowledge on the range of technology applications such as word processing, Powerpoint, and e-mail. We need DCPS to look closely at the support (or lack of) for providing students with technology skills they will need for the jobs of the 21st century. Since the announcement of Amazon’s selection of Arlington as a new headquarters, neighboring localities have decided to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in regional institutions of higher education for technology research and education. Will DCPS graduates be prepared to take advantage of these local opportunities?

  1. Support for Teachers

We also need DCPS to look closely at support for training teachers to effectively incorporate technology into instruction. This is an issue with scaling up—while DCPS currently offers some voluntary professional development opportunities for teachers, it is not sufficient to ensure the whole teacher workforce is equipped to use technology effectively (to achieve educational goals). We also continue to hear that some teachers are not issued a laptop by their school because the school cannot afford to purchase laptops for its staff.

  1. Continued Inequity Requires Holistic Approach to Solve

Lastly, as part of the Empowered Learners Initiative, additional tasks/requirements have been placed on our schools, such as having to regularly update school technology inventories and plan for device distribution. This work is being placed on current school staff. As we saw last year, some schools struggled to complete their technology inventories due to lack of staff capacity, and IT support for fixing computers is still inadequate. If computer devices are NOT paired with adequate support for managing them at the school level, we will continue to have an equity issue, as the schools with the last staffing capacity and resources will be the most disadvantaged.

For a technology initiative that truly empowers our students and teaching staff, we need an ecosystem of supports—not just computer hardware. In the addendum to my testimony, I have included our top five areas where attention is needed in implementing the Empowered Learners’ Initiative Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Addendum: Our parent coalition has identified five areas where attention is needed.
Parent Priorities for Implementation of Empowered Learners Initiative

 

  1. Adequate support for technology at the school level: This includes adequate staffing and resources at the school level for taking inventory of the school’s existing computers, handling device rollout, and maintaining and fixing technology.

 

  1. Devices provided in a timely manner to schools: A number of approvals are needed to finalize the new DCPS contract for computers. Every month that goes by without having the computers at schools is a lost opportunity for our students, especially those in testing grades who are expected to take the online PARCC test in the spring.

 

  1. Equitable and transparent allocation of devices to schools: Each school community should be informed of the number of new computers and other technology assets that will be allocated to their school and how this number was determined.

 

  1. Transparent and timely communication to schools (including school leadership, staff/teachers, parents): DCPS has developed planning guides and other resources to support schools, but it’s not clear that most school communities have seen and are using these resources. In some schools, staff continue to ask PTAs to raise money for technology. Everyone–school leaders, teachers, and parents–needs to be on the same page regarding what assets and support will be provided to schools by DCPS’s central office and when they will be provided.

 

  1. Training for teachers and students: School staff and students should be properly trained to use and maintain their equipment, including best practices for incorporating digital learning into classrooms and preventing misuse of technology. This issue is about scaling up: while some optional professional development opportunities are being offered by DCPS’s central office, it will take more work and resources to ensure all teachers and students are prepared to use technology effectively.

 

Rebecca Reina and Emily Gasoi Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Joint testimony of

Rebecca Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council and

Emily Gasoi, State Board of Education, Ward 1 Representative

to the District of Columbus Public Schools Public Budget Hearing

Maury Elementary School

Tuesday, October, 29, 2019

I am Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council is a volunteer organization that brings together parents, educators, students, and community members to share information and to advocate for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while ensuring we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both public educational sectors. Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the DCPS budget. I am sharing this testimony with Emily Gasoi, the Ward 1 Representative on the State Board of Education. She will take up where I end today.

DCPS schools in Ward 1, like DCPS schools throughout the city, are struggling with their yearly budgets:

At the Ward 1 Education Council meeting in March, we asked for a show of hands from DCPS stakeholders whose schools were losing one or more staff position due to inadequate funding in their SY19-20 budget. Reps from ten of the twelve DCPS schools in attendance raised their hands (not all of them Ward 1 schools).

Cleveland, a Title 1 elementary school serving 310 students, 21% ELL and 51% At-Risk, does not have a general reading interventionist and has only two special education teachers to serve the entire school.

H.D. Cooke, a Title 1 elementary school serving 395 students, 46% ELL and 58% At-Risk, struggles to provide appropriate supports for its many English Language Learners.

Tubman, a Title 1 elementary school serving 566 students, 53% ELL and 63% At-Risk, lost eight positions going into this school year, despite an enrollment increase. Tubman was projected to have 534 students this fall and funded for that level, although enrollment has not been under 550 in years.

Bancroft ES was unable to cover the cost for two early childhood intervention staff positions in their initial budget. Bancroft is a Dual-Language school serving 550 students, 56% ELL and 35% At Risk.

CHEC, one of the largest schools in the city and a Title 1 educational campus serving 1,210 students, 35% ELL and 65% At Risk, sees its per-pupil funding go down each year. A CHEC staffer emailed: “If we can’t right-size our budget, we are looking at cutting 2 staff members and we won’t be able to hire the social worker and other essential support staff we so desperately need.”  He went on to explain that this will mean increasing class sizes for ELL students who need more, not less individualized attention. This will mean that the school’s one middle school social worker who last year was managing 7+ homeless referrals, 40 PGT referrals, 15 504 cases, 21 IEP cases and has administered 80 special education eligibility assessments, will continue to be stretched dangerously thin. And it will mean that some of our city’s most vulnerable students will continue to have referral wait times of 8 to 10 weeks to see a school-based therapist.

Cardozo EC, a 6th through 12th grade campus of 757 students, 44% ELL and 83% At-Risk, must figure out how to staff multiple, distinct programs with largely inflexible budgeting, while their International Academy student population falls precipitously – which is no surprise given the current national climate – and its 9th and 10th grade mainstream classes simultaneously swell.

Schools struggle with their operating budgets as well:

The Cardozo community alerted us to the fact that all DCPS schools must deal with a purchasing freeze period lasting over a month from late September to early November every year. While the budget office’s reasons vary yearly – this year it is Central Office staffing – the yearly Student Activities Fund and P Card freeze and the budget office’s unresponsiveness does not vary.

School facilities maintenance is inadequate:

Tubman has been waiting for an HVAC renovation and roof repair for three years.

Although Cardozo’s building is managed by RDW Consulting, neither DGS nor RDW responds to maintenance requests in a timely manner. Door locks and elevators remain broken.

Playground repairs requested by Cleveland last school year remain unfinished.

Lead abatement of pour-in-place playground surfaces remain unresolved throughout the city.

Holes remain in the Capital Improvements Plan:

Washington Metropolitan, the last unmodernized DCPS high school, has been dropped from the CIP without clarity on the future of that program.

Anna Beers Elementary School in Ward 7 is not in the Capital budget.

An additional Ward 7 middle school needs to be opened to feed Woodson HS and strengthen that feeder pattern.

Shaw Middle School at 800 Euclid St NW, needs to be added to the CIP to strengthen the Cardozo feeder pattern, improve DCPS middle grade programming, and continue the very strong DCPS enrollment gains in Ward 4 and alleviate crowding and impending crowding surrounding Ward 1 at Deal, Hardy, School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, and MacFarland Middle Schools.

Additionally, the Banneker HS modernization should not include a football field. That school and neighborhood communities both far prefer a track.

//

Emily Gasoi will provide suggestions to these issues when she finishes this testimony.  Thank you.

//

My name is Emily Gasoi and I am the Ward 1 Representative on the State Board of Education. As W1EC chair Becky Reina explained, I will pick up our testimony where she left off to discuss some of the broader issues underlying individual school struggles and to offer some solutions:

To start, there are several now predictable practices that cause general budget instability for our schools, making it difficult for them to invest the time and thought that budgeting decisions require.

  1. Last school year’s late release of school budgets and the unreasonably short turnaround time schools had to return them was not conducive to thoughtful decision-making for any leadership team. But especially for schools with budgets that do not adequately cover costs, having to rush decisions about which positions to cut is detrimental to student learning and to the morale of the entire school community. Of course, a greater effort should be made to get budgets to schools on time. But when they are late, school leaders have advised me that they need a minimum of two weeks to fully review them with their teams and make the best decisions for their school communities.
  1. That said, schools might not need as much time to turn their budgets around if the budgeting process were more stable and predictable. Starting from zero each year while relying on imperfect enrollment projection methods has led to an unhealthy level of instability for schools. The city school count day is in October, even as there is predictable student mobility, mostly from Charters to DCPS schools, throughout the school year. This handcuffs DCPS’s systemwide budget from the city, inadequately providing for our schools of right, but it need not be directly reflected in DCPS individual school budgets. We recommend using different enrollment projections can be used for different purposes and the internal enrollment projections used to fund our schools of right must be improved.

 

  1. While all types of schools are impacted by such budget instability, as Becky pointed out in her testimony about CHEC and several of our elementaries serving fewer than 500 students the CSM is most predictably harmful to our largest and smallest schools. In fact, we have learned that one of the few things that large schools like CHEC and small schools like Cleveland ES can count on when it comes to their annual budgets is that funding will not adequately cover their basic staffing costs. This predictable inadequacy in our budgeting process needs to be addressed.

We know DCPS is evaluating whether to move away from the CSM. Before we throw out this admittedly imperfect funding model, we should first try to fully fund our DCPS schools, which would include taking some of the following steps:

  • The UPSFF should be raised to keep pace with rising costs, in line with the city’s past adequacy study, which according to DC FPI would require an 8% increase.
  • At minimum, the CSM should be followed, with each school receiving the promised baseline, and it should be retooled to provide differentiated supports for our largest and smallest schools.
  • At-Risk funds should supplement funds for core school functions, not be used to supplant them.
  • Stabilization funds should be correctly allocated, and not gamed by adding new costs into individual school budgets.

I  would like to add that many Ward 1 schools offer Specialty programming – including but not limited to dual language, international baccalaureate, and International Academies – and should therefore receive additional funding.  Specialty programming requires program coordinator staff, trainings, and materials, all of which cost money which school leaders should not be forced to steal from funding core school functions.

Finally, as with most everything education-related, this is an equity issue. While a majority of Ward 1 schools have to haggle each year or “get creative” with their budgets, our sister schools in Wards 7 and 8 were hit hardest in the budgets for FY20. Schools east of the river are more likely to have declining enrollment and to be forced to absorb the most significant budget reductions — which directly impacts their ability to serve their remaining student population and to attract more students, thus leading them to enter a “death spiral.”

A system in which there are winners and losers is not, and never will be, an equitable system. When problems are predictable as all of these budget issues are, there is no excuse to continue on with business as usual. Additionally, while DCPS teachers’ salaries look very generous when viewed in a vacuum, when adjusted for DC’s cost of living, our salaries fall squarely in the middle of the pack nationally.  Those salaries should never be used as an excuse for inadequately funding the education of our children. It’s time to make the changes necessary to bring stability and equity to our funding process so that all our schools, from Ward 1 to Ward 8 are fully and fairly funded.

Thank you.