Testimony For Apr 17, 2013 Council Hearing On School Budget By Committee On Education – By Valerie Jablow

I am Valerie Jablow, and my two children attend the Capitol Hill Cluster School, which has 1,200 students from preK through grade 8.

Like many in DC, our school’s budget has been cut, resulting in numerous teacher layoffs.

Our PTA now projects spending a majority of its money this coming school year to pay for needed staff.

Our layoffs include all foreign language staff at our middle school, Stuart-Hobson, as well as Stuart-Hobson’s technology teacher, leaving a multimillion dollar computer lab unstaffed. At the new staffing level, there will be 35 kids per class.

Our layoffs also mean that our middle school will not have a full-time librarian, and our elementary no guidance counselor or reading resource teachers. All are basic to a healthy school.

All this because of 30 double-enrolled students at Stuart-Hobson! Let me explain.

In summer 2012, our principal turned waitlisted students away from Stuart-Hobson. Our historically fully enrolled school otherwise would have been overenrolled—and DCPS told her that was bad.

But in the first week of school this year, parents of 30 kids pulled them out of Stuart-Hobson to attend charters. All were double-enrolled. And so our numbers at Stuart-Hobson dropped below DCPS’s new, arbitrary 400 student level, causing especially steep budget cuts for 2014. Adding foreign language teachers at the elementary level, a new DCPS mandate, means that keeping the per pupil funding to a fixed number, also a DCPS mandate, results in cuts everywhere.

At the same time that our school is being defunded, DCPS is expanding a school just blocks from Stuart-Hobson into middle school grades and creating another new public school another few blocks away—all the while at least nine new charter schools are applying to open in DC AND our mayor says that school enrollment is projected to decline!

The take-home message: absolutely no support for existing DCPS schools. It’s the Hunger Games, public school edition, ensuring a slow, resource-starved death for most schools. Those of us at the Cluster know this all too well: we have been fighting for almost three years now just to get full funding for Stuart-Hobson’s renovation–its ONLY renovation in 86 years.

To address our cuts, our staff is working extra hours to ensure that all parents enroll their children so we might gain one lost teacher. Our principal has also marketed our school to everyone with a child in neighborhood schools. And since the budget came out, our staff have scrambled to figure out how to offer the same quality education with fewer resources.

In the meantime, our kids need to learn–but how can anyone teach when they are trying just to ensure their school will survive?

Our city has created these problems and all DCPS kids are paying for them! Double enrollments can be stopped tomorrow. New schools do NOT have to be created. And school budgets should reflect the best use of existing resources, not saying that each child gets X dollars for funding, end of story—and by the way, take an extra budget hit if you don’t meet a new, arbitrary enrollment cutoff, when there are no common enrollment dates and processes for all schools receiving public money!

All of this is in YOUR power to fix. Tomorrow, if you want. Our school cannot do this alone, and expecting parents or PTAs or heroic staff or prayer to make up the difference is cynical and not respectful of the idea of public education. Our city must invest in our existing public schools—otherwise, what is the point of public education? Thank you.

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