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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   There are many more, such as an original out of date elevator (out of operations for the last month), an exterior façade which doesn’t keep rain out of classrooms, an undersized kitchen that can’t efficiently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.

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[i]

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.

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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

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