Testimony For Apr 17, 2013 Council Hearing On School Budget By Committee On Education – By Joe Weedon

COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION

 

OVERSIGHT HEARING

The Proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Budget of the District of Columbia Public Schools

 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

10:00 am

 

 

Hearing Room 500, John A. Wilson Building

1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20004

Testimony of

Joe Weedon, Parent

Maury Elementary School

Thank you, Chairman Catania and members of the Council.

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

About Maury ES

Maury Elementary, a DCPS school located in Ward 6, is a school with extensive parental and community involvement committed to the education of the whole person. Our educational program fosters intellectual, emotional, social and physical development, thereby enabling each child to compete successfully in a global society. Students are provided with a multi-dimensional, student-centered environment providing a challenge to all students and also promoting maximum achievement.

Maury Elementary has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past few years. Just eight years ago, the school was under-enrolled and then DCPS Superintendent Clifford Janey hosted a meeting at the school where it was stated that Maury was in danger of being closed due to under-enrollment.

Today, the school is thriving. We expect to be home to 330 students next year and we have over 475 students on the waitlist for admission to school. We have an active PTA with approximately 170 members. We have a strong principal in Carolyne Albert-Garvey and, last October, ten Maury staff members were recognized by DCPS as highly effective educators (Asonja Dorsey, grade 1; Beverly Overby, retired counselor; Janine Levin, preschool; Kate Sweeney, librarian; Lauren Bomba, art teacher; Natalie Hanni, grade 2; Norah Rabiah, Instructional Coach; Scott Harding, preschool; Shirley Battle, Kindergarten; and Vanessa Ford, Think Tank/Science Coordinator). Maury is also home to a winner of the Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching, Mr. Scott Harding (preschool).

FY2014 Budget

The Maury ES community received from DCPS its FY2014, School Year 2013-14, budget proposal on Friday, March 8, 2013. The school budget provided Maury an allocation of $3.2 million for 330 students or $9,761 per student.

 

SY 2012-13

(FY2013)

Projected SY2013-14

(FY2014)

Increase / Loss

Total Budget

$3,174,115

$3,221,203

+ $47,087

Enrollment

312

330

+18

Per-Student Spending

$10,173

$9,761

- $412

The initial budget proposal submitted to Maury Elementary School showed a limited understanding of our school community and the factors that have allowed our school to grow and thrive over the past 5 years. The budget proposal included funding for an additional kindergarten classroom which would have upset years of planning that have resulted in manageable classroom sizes in the upper grades. Additionally, the budget included substantive changes to staffing levels that threaten the on-going success of our academic programs and the support of our parent community. Despite these significant changes, the school administration was expected to return to DCPS a final budget by Thursday, March 14, providing the school’s leadership less than one week to obtain parent and community input.

The Maury leadership has worked in partnership with DCPS to make changes within our budget that will allow for the majority of our current programming to continue. We have accomplished this without asking for or receiving any additional funding to support our staffing or classroom activities.

Despite our school community’s success in obtaining waivers to ensure our academic programs can continue, we still have several unanswered questions about this year’s budget and budget process. Most alarming for many Maury parents are DCPS’s decisions to (1) change the “small school” threshold from 300 to 400 students and (2) strip budget autonomy from members of the DC Collaborative for Change (DC3), of which Maury ES is a member. Additionally, we have significant concerns about how DCPS funds afterschool programming and with the lack of transparency and autocratic decision-making of DCPS.

(1) The “Small School” Threshold

There is no clear threshold for “small schools” in last year’s (FY 2013) DCPS Budget Guidelines. However, last year elementary schools with enrollments over 300 students received funding for full-time librarians, art, music and physical education teachers as well as office staff and other support staff, including social workers and psychologists. This is the same threshold that Maury has repeatedly been told we needed to exceed in order to ensure we’d receive budget allocations for full-time librarian as well as full-time art, music and PE teachers.

Over the past year, during discussion on the plan to consolidate and reorganize schools, Chancellor Henderson often cited 350 students as the threshold for “small” schools at the elementary level:

When schools reach a certain threshold, 350-ish at the elementary school level, 450 at middle, 600 at high school, you actually have the ability to do more flexible grouping. You have teachers who are able to work together because they’re on a team and are not isolated teaching one grade.

DCPS’ Consolidation & Reorganization proposal also clearly lists 350 students as a threshold: “Schools with fewer than 350 students require additional per-pupil funding to offer a full range of services. Sixty-four percent of DCPS elementary schools have fewer than 350 students.”

Despite the threshold being 300 in last year’s (FY2013) budget and rhetoric from DCPS indicating a 350 threshold was possible in the future, in next year’s budget, elementary schools with under 400 students are classified as “small schools.” This decision was made with little to no public input or notice.

The Impact of being a “small school”

Maury Elementary School is a growing community and is projected to reach 330 students in SY2013-14, dramatically exceeding our building’s capacity.

While Maury ES currently has approximately 475 students on its waitlist, our facility, though renovated in 2011, is rated for fewer than 300 students and without a long-promised expansion of the school we will not be able to meet the new 400 student threshold for full-time librarians, art, music and language teachers or for a full-time mental health team. The change in ‘small school’ status means that Maury faced the following staffing reductions:

 

SY 2012-13

(FY2013)

Projected SY2013-14

(FY2014)

Budgeted Loss

Instructional Positions
Librarian

1

.5

. 5 Librarian

Music

1

.5 music or art

. 5 Music or Art

Art

1

.5 music or art

. 5 Music or Art

Classroom aides

8

6

- 2

Administrative Positions
Business manager

1

.5

. 5

Support Positions
Social Worker

1

.5

. 5

Psychologist

1

.5

. 5

 

The value of full-time staff.

The parents and students at Maury Elementary school place a great value on having our teachers in our school throughout the day. We believe that relying upon part-time staff at our school will impact the quality of staff and of instruction, reduce our academic offerings, and impact the school’s culture.

The reliance on part-time staff will result in significant hiring and retention issues at Maury ES and other “small” schools. We strongly believe that teachers, when given a choice, will select to be in a single school rather than splitting their time between two buildings. We believe that the impact of this decision will be that Maury ES will not be able to retain our high-preforming teachers and that we will struggle to attract high-quality applicants for part-time positions in the future.

Second, without the teachers in our building full-time, our academic programs will suffer in the following ways:

Collaboration with classroom teachers will be limited. At Maury ES, there is a culture of collaboration between classroom teachers and the special teachers (Library, Art, Music, and PE which could all become part-time positions in “small schools”), in which all specials teachers work together to help students thrive. If teachers are in the building ½ time, the amount of time for special teachers to collaborate with classroom teachers will be limited and academic progress will suffer.

Reading interventions will be limited. Specials teachers (Library, Art, Music and PE) at Maury ES do much to support the literacy of our students.  The Maury librarian, Ms. Kate Sweeney leads a ‘Reading Lunch’ for 4th and 5th grade students and ‘Open Library’ during recess for students in grades 3-5. This provides students with the opportunity to improve their reading skills and secure additional support in both reading and math. Other ‘specials’ teachers at Maury lead reading interventions during their free and planning periods and support the literacy of our school in multiple ways.

Additional instruction opportunities will not be possible.  Many of the Maury specials teachers (Library, Art, Music and PE) participate in after-school programming and offer special programs for students during lunch or recess periods. Additionally, the Maury PTA has implemented a fundraising initiative to buy computers for a technology class for grades 1-5 next year. This class would teach students both basic computer skills and also the skills necessary to become creators of digital content and to thrive in a Web 2.0 world. This class will not be possible with part-time staffing.

In addition to the retention and academic concerns that DCPS’s decision to staff Maury ES with more part-time position, we also believe that the school’s culture will suffer dramatically. Students have a strong bond with our ‘specials’ teachers that is only possible because of the amount of time the teachers spend at our school. At our recent school fundraiser, the auction items featuring the ‘special’ teachers were among the most in-demand items at the auction, raising thousands of dollars to support our school.

The change to ‘small school’ status will also impact the provision of mental health services across the city, including at Maury ES. Most ‘small schools,’ including Maury ES, will now only have a 1/2 time social worker and a 1/2 time psychologist. Given requirements that these two individuals both be present for certain evaluations and meetings, there will be substantial periods of time when small schools will not have a mental health professional in the building. These staff do remarkable work in helping those with needs, in helping to prevent and solve disruptions in the classrooms and in ensuring that schools can have a positive, inclusive culture.

 

‘Small School’ conclusions:

Over the past several years, DCPS officials have made it clear to the Maury community that we needed to increase enrollment to be guaranteed a fully staffed building. We were continually informed that we needed to be home to more than 300 students. We have met this challenge. Our student population has grown from just 263 students in 2009-2010 to over 300 and our projected enrollment for SY2013-14 is 330. DCPS’s decision to change the “small school” threshold to 400 students, placing our continued success in jeopardy.

By changing the “small school” threshold to 400 students, Maury ES – which was renovated in 2011 and has a rated capacity of less than 300 students – is subject to significant reductions to our staffing and support personnel that will prevent us from retaining and attracting the best teachers, will weaken our academic programs and hinder student growth, and undermine our school’s culture.

DCPS cannot be allowed to arbitrarily change the goal, without notice or providing fully enrolled schools the opportunity to meet the new enrollment thresholds. We also believe that DCPS needs to fully staff all fully enrolled schools to ensure that we have strong staff, strong academic programs and interventions and a strong school culture.

(2) DC Collaborative for Change

The DC Collaborative for Change (DC3) is a group of nine District of Columbia public schools that are united by a shared vision, common values and purpose, and a commitment to realizing the infinite potential for learning among all our stakeholders. As a member of the DC3, Maury ES has long received a degree of budget autonomy that has allowed our school’s leadership to ensure that our budget priorities could be achieved. However, in the proposed FY2014 budget, Maury ES no longer had any degree of budget autonomy.  This change was made without notice or without public input.

While I would like to take this opportunity to Thank DCPS’ leadership for granting Maury ES a number of waivers to allow us to shift resources within our budget to meet the needs of our school community, the Maury ES community does not believe that the process of requesting and securing annual waivers to ensure our school is adequately staffed in a manner that meets our school’s unique priorities is a viable solution. In years past, the school leadership – the principal with the support of the Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) – had the authority to make many of the changes to our budget DCPS has authorized this year.

While we are appreciative of DCPS’ willingness to work with us, the added layer of bureaucracy and the fact that we cannot be guaranteed to receive the same types of waivers in the future are concerning. The fact that our school’s capacity and enrollment likely mean we will continue to beholden to the “small school” funding level makes the lack of budget autonomy more critical.

We believe that DCPS should restore the budget autonomy of DC3 schools to allow the members of the collaborative the budgetary flexibility to provide our children with a well-rounded education with our limited resources. Additionally, DCPS needs to empower instructional superintendents to work with principals to ensure that all schools receive initial budget allocations that meet their unique school needs.

Additional Issue: After School Programming

Afterschool programs provide a variety of unique programming options to students, furthering their academic attainment and cultivating new interests among the students. Participation in high-quality afterschool programs has been proven to improve school attendance, academic achievement, graduation rates and attitudes toward learning. Students attending three hours of afterschool programming each day gain the equivalent of nearly four months of learning time.

Afterschool programs are an integral part of the learning environment and they play a vital role, especially at the elementary level, for working parents. Maury ES has long utilized DCPS afterschool to care for many of our students and the program has seen remarkable growth – both in enrollment and in programming. However, next year, Maury ES will join the growing number of District schools that do not qualifying for DCPS afterschool programming, impacting approximately 70 Maury students who are currently enrolled in the program.

At Maury ES, we recognize that the loss of our DCPS afterschool program is due to the changing demographics of our school community and that it is a long-standing DCPS decision to not provide aftercare at schools that do not qualify for Title I status. However, the Maury community believes that this decision is creating a dual system of “haves” and “have nots” across the District and that it threatens our goal of being an inclusive and diverse – socially, culturally, and economically – school.

Maury Elementary School, through a non-profit after-care provider, has a strong plan in place to ensure that all students will continue to receive strong aftercare programming, including an academic power hour, snacks, and enrichment programs during the next academic year. However, some families – especially those who have to pay increased prices under new system but whom would receive free or reduced cost after-care at schools which receive DCPS aftercare programming – will choose their school based on whether or not a school has ‘free’ aftercare programming. This will lead to a growing economic divide within our school communities.

We believe that it is in DCPS’ as well as the city’s best interest to ensure that all elementary students have access to high-quality aftercare programming to ensure that all schools are economically diverse and that all schools are inclusive. We believe that funds for afterschool programming should follow students in need regardless of the percentage of low-income students in a school.

Additional Issue:  Lack of Transparency and Autocratic Decision-Making

Many in the Maury community – as well as DCPS parents across the city – are concerned with DCPS’ limited communication, lack of opportunity for parental involvement and unilateral decision-making.

First, throughout the FY2014 budget process, DCPS Chancellor Henderson has provided little insight into how the changes in budgeting and ‘small school’ size align with DCPS’ vision to attract students (outlined in the Better School for All Students consolidation and reorganization plan) and improve academic attainment (outlined in A Capital Commitment as well as in RAISE DC). This is especially problematic when the proposed budget for a school such as Maury ES – a school that has seen dramatic enrollment growth and improving test scores – includes significant cuts to staffing and support personnel and limits our ability to allocate resources in a manner that best meets the needs of our school community.

Second, many parents are concerned that DCPS has misled them during the debate about school closings. During testimony to the Council last year, as well as at numerous public events over the past year, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson stated that the recent round of school closures would save DCPS approximately $8.5 million, which would be put back into schools to improve programming including into support services, libraries and the arts (all slated for cuts at Maury ES). Additionally, in mid-February, Mayor Gray announced that DCPS would receive a 2 percent increase in per-student funding. Yet, Maury ES and many other schools across the city are slated for significant cuts in staffing for the 2013-14 School Year (SY). These cuts are occurring despite enrollment growth at Maury ES.

And, finally, parents are concerned with the limited transparency and lack of parental involvement and notice of decisions that dramatically impact our school environments. This concern relates to DCPS’ unilateral decisions to change the threshold for ‘small schools’ from 300 to 400 and to strip budget autonomy from DC3 schools without any public discussion or notice.

Conclusions

The Council of the District of Columbia has an obligation to ensure that DCPS’ budget is clear and transparent. The Council also has a responsibility to ensure that all students in the District of Columbia are receiving a high-quality educational experience. I’d also argue that the Council also has an obligation to ensure that DCPS is meeting the goals that that have been laid out relating to student achievement and student enrollment.

The Maury community stands ready to work with you – and with DCPS – to ensure that our school can continue to thrive.  Our school community has met every challenge that we have faced – we have increased enrollment and we have improved DC CAS scores. We are working to build strong middle school options across Ward 6 and there are a growing number of families who are committed to seeing our children graduate – together – from Eastern HS.

Yet, we cannot allow DCPS to continually change the goals, including the 300 student threshold for small schools, that they have set out for us. We believe that DCPS needs to fully staff fully enrolled schools. We believe that DCPS needs to restore autonomy to members of the DC3 collaborative and ensure that instructional superintendents are empowered to work with principals to ensure that all schools are adequately staffed and supported.  Additionally, we believe the city needs to reexamine how afterschool programs are funded and ensure that all students in need receive funding regardless of where they attend school. And, we believe that the Council needs to ensure that DCPS operates in a transparent and good-faith relationship with parents and community members to build a system of schools that serve all students in the District.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak here today.

One thought on “Testimony For Apr 17, 2013 Council Hearing On School Budget By Committee On Education – By Joe Weedon

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