Good Evening Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor for Education Smith, and State Superintendent of Education Aguirre:
My name is Martin R. Welles, Esq. and I have three children at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and am President of the PTA. While I am primarily testifying today on behalf of my interest in improving Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, it should also be noted that I am one of the Ward 6 Representatives on Deputy Mayor Smith’s Student Assignment and Boundary Committee, and have also recently been named as one of the parent advisors on Chancellor Henderson’s newly formed Parent Cabinet. I think my interests as a parent are aligned with my interests in trying to have high quality educational options throughout our city. The comments I make tonight, however, I make as a parent.
It takes a partnership to reform schools and I want to take this time to thank you each of you for allowing me to work with you over the years. Mayor Gray, we have accomplished many of our goals at Amidon-Bowen, such as increasing enrollment from 229 students to 372 projected for next year (63% increase). We had a nice 10 point gain in our reading and 4 point gain in our math scores last year and I’m told that preliminary indications demonstrate another successful year is in store for testing. You can also see a noticeable change in school culture. We have many partners in our success – from Everybody Wins!, DC United, Playworks, Target Foundation and Kid Power, and of course your office, to name just a few. Deputy Mayor Smith, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to work with you on the student assignment and boundary issues – I feel our work has only just begun there. Superintendent Aguirre we had a great partnership in improving Landsburgh Park while you were Director of Parks and Rec – the new basketball courts and community garden have taken hold, and the new dog park should be constructed this Spring.
Mayor Gray, although this is an operating budget meeting, I do want to take this opportunity to thank you for the capital improvements to the school – the Phase 1 renovation, playground renovation, and installation of the new windows which is scheduled to start as soon as Mother Nature cooperates. We are not done at Amidon-Bowen with capital improvements, and we really need to begin working on the renovations to the swing space soon to be vacated by Appletree Charter School, the gymnasium, cafeteria, and additional classrooms in the library. We are growing rapidly and providing a standard classroom for all children – especially a high risk population like those at Amidon-Bowen is paramount.
There are a couple areas in the 2015 Fiscal Year Budget that I would like for you to consider as they pertain to Amidon-Bowen, and more generally across the District.
- Realignment of classrooms due to Growth
We are adding a third section of kindergarten and a third section of 2nd grade due to our growth. We received the money for the operating costs, but there was no corresponding allocation for capital improvements. We have the space, but we need capital money so that children are in the same wings as their cohorts. Otherwise, one section of Kindergarten and one section of 2nd grade will be remotely located from their peers. (see attached drawing) It is an easy fix and we have the space, we just need to combine two small rooms in the kindergarten wings. This will involve knocking down a wall this summer. Then, we need to relocate the art and dance rooms so that they are in the space being vacated by Appletree Charter School. This will free up classroom space in the academic wing. It’s relatively simple and straightforward – just building a couple walls, doors and installing the flooring and walls. Relocating the art and dance rooms from the academic wing into the “specials” area will allow all classrooms to be in the same area with their peers. Finally, we will need to install new lighting and doors and a fresh coat of paint in the parent resource room so that we can increase family engagement. The FY 15 budget accounts for the operating costs, but it doesn’t account for the capital improvements necessary. We have other capital improvement projects to complete the school, but accommodating the 3rd section of Kindergarten and 2nd Grade is urgent and necessary prior to the start of next year. My estimate, unverified by DGS, is that these projects could be completed for approximately $300,000.
I support an extended day program at Amidon-Bowen and also support year-round schooling. There is a line on the budget for extended day next year. However, it is my understanding that there is a collective bargaining agreement in place with the Teacher’s Union that requires a vote of support from the Union in order to extend the day. Our teachers work long days and have many challenges and they should be fairly compensated for their work. I believe Charter Schools have more flexibility in the work day requirements and so, if possible, I would like to see a leveling of the playing field in this respect. Public schools, especially the lowest 40 performing, need more operations funding so that additional teachers/staff can be hired during the day to alleviate some of the work load and make the extended day program a reality at DCPS. I would like to see funding for extended day as a line item on the budget, but also have some sort of tie-in to the “regular” work-day funding. For example, the budget could reflect an additional half-day salary for each grade contingent upon the implementation of the extended day program. This could give teachers the opportunity for a more flexible schedule during the “regular” day. I just do not think that a vote by the Teacher’s Union should determine whether there should be an extended day program.
- Summer School/Year Round School
I also support year-round schooling and I think adding summer school at each school – especially the lower performing schools is an important first step in this initiative. When summer school locations are consolidated, the children who need the educational continuity the most just do not attend a remote school – even with busing provided. Therefore, I would like to see a 2015 budget allocation for summer school at Amidon-Bowen for Amidon-Bowen students, and other students on a space available basis.
- Charter School Discharges in October/February
Like clock-work, Amidon-Bowen receives two waves of students discharged from Charter Schools. The first wave comes in October, after the official count day and after budget money has attached to each Charter and Public school. The second wave comes around February before the DC CAS test. Generally speaking, the children who arrive at Amidon-Bowen in October are children with behavioral issues (attendance, discipline etc.). The February wave generally consists of students whose behavior might be fine, but are basic or below basic in reading and math levels. While these may be generalizations, it defies logic to think that a Charter school would discharge a well-behaved, high performing student. I have heard that the children who are nudged out of Charter schools because they are basic and below basic are sometimes promised an opportunity to re-enroll in the next academic year. Because they re-enroll as “new” students the subsequent school year, the test scores for those children do not count. If public schools, like Amidon-Bowen, are doing the heavy lifting for the children Charter schools discharge, then there needs to be extra budget money allocated for the October and February influx of children at Amidon-Bowen. I therefore ask for additional money in Amidon-Bowen’s 2015 budget to accommodate the October and February influx of Charter school students.
I thank you for your time and I look forward to partnering with each of you again this year. We have a lot of work to do, but I am proud to be able to send my children to public school in the District of Columbia.
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