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Jablow testimony, DME Budget Hearing 4/13/16

I am Valerie Jablow, testifying about the ineffective public education stewardship of the DME’s office that I have experienced as a Ward 6 public school parent. This lack of effectiveness comes at the expense of by right schools and their students, who are the majority of children in DC.

 

Here are some examples:

 

Renovation of DCPS’s Eliot-Hine Middle School has been delayed again, despite mold, rodents, and persistent HVAC issues. Since Eliot was built 85 years ago, its upkeep and improvement have been minimal[1]—as has city investment in most other Ward 6, by right school facilities[2].

 

In the meantime, with charter middle schools starting in 5th grade and actively marketing themselves to Ward 6 by right elementaries,[3] Eliot-Hine’s feeder system has been decimated, and it has lost enrollment for years running.

 

The DME’s office has not addressed these crises.

 

In 2014, then-DME Abigail Smith offered a nearby closed school to charters, presenting data showing hundreds of empty seats at DCPS schools around and including Eliot-Hine.[4] When asked why create another public school in an area where her own data showed a glut of seats, the DME had no answer.

 

Then, during her performance oversight hearing last month, the current DME noted how the city created the misalignment of middle school grades between charters and DCPS[5]—leading to the depopulation of many DCPS elementary and middle schools. The DME testified that she has no idea how to solve this problem.

 

Another example:

 

In March, the DME rolled out data on programmatic capacities of public schools.[6] Charter schools estimated their own capacities, according to current and future uses, curricula, and staffing. Capacities of DCPS schools were estimated by DGS mainly according to square footage.

 

My daughter’s DCPS school, Watkins Elementary, as a result appears to be slightly underenrolled even though it has been fully enrolled—and not meeting ed specs–for decades.

 

And yet, on the basis of this data, the DME analyzed DCPS school utilizations and outlined plans for schools thusly considered underenrolled.[7]

 

But the DME did not outline charter school utilizations–not even for the 44 charters currently in former DCPS spaces.[8] Nor did the DME’s data account for the high closure rate of charter schools,[9] despite both pieces of information being vital to any comprehensive public education planning in DC.[10]

 

The mayor and her deputy supposedly oversee all public education in DC. The buck stops with them for misalignment of middle school grades; poor conditions at schools like Eliot-Hine; and underenrolled schools.

 

And the buck stops with them for equitable planning that would prevent these problems in the first place. Saying “I don’t know how”; pretending no one has oversight of charter schools or enrollment; or shifting the burden to a temporary, volunteer group (the cross sector task force) are excuses that hurt kids.

 

Here is how things could be better—tomorrow, if you and the mayor wanted:

 

–All charter and DCPS middle school grades aligned starting SY17.

–No school created or closed before the poor conditions at Eliot-Hine and other unrenovated schools are completely remedied.

–No school created until empty seats at existing schools are filled.

–School capacities and uses equitably analyzed across sectors—and, until they are, no school openings, closures, or new uses.

 

Our kids deserve education leaders who work for all DC public education students. Thank you.

—————-

Footnotes

[1] See http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/30291/eliot-hine-a-dc-middle-school-is-falling-apart/ and DGS data used to prioritize FY16 capital spending.

 

[2] In a March 2016 presentation, the 21st Century School Fund presented data on DCPS capital expenditures from 1998 through 2015 by ward. Expenditures for Ward 6 were the lowest in the city, both as measured in costs per square foot as well as per attending student:

 

Ward 1: $44,076/student; $169/sf

Ward 2: $48,038/student; $214/sf

Ward 3: $54,373/student; $323/sf

Ward 4: $36,078/student; $149/sf

Ward 5: $59,244/student; $254/sf

Ward 6: $29,426/student; $126/sf

Ward 7: $33,362/student; $165/sf

Ward 8: $44,541/student; $148/sf

[3] This is obvious to anyone who lives on Capitol Hill and has children in its public schools, but it was recently documented in a story on March 2, 2016 on WAMU (see http://wamu.org/news/16/03/02/5th_grade_dropoff) and also on the blog educationdc.net (https://educationdc.net/2015/09/08/where-have-all-the-4th-graders-gone/).

[4] This was the offer of the closed DCPS elementary Gibbs. Besides the glut of seats, the community around Gibbs objected to its reopening as a school and the process by which that was undertaken. See http://anc6a.org/wp-content/uploads/GibbsProcessConcernsDGS.pdf

 

[5] This was on March 2, 2016, at the performance oversight hearing before the council’s education committee. The exchange on the DME’s recognition of misalignment of middle school grades between charters and DCPS began at the 4:17 mark. At 4:21, Charles Allen asked, “Is this something on the table for the cross sector task force?” The DME responded that the task force would be “truly collaborative,” but warned that “decision rights” are not on the table and she would not enact a “fiat.” She then stated, “I don’t know how we are going to solve it.” The charter school board, she noted, would have to choose to have schools to start at certain grades—and then said that it is not in her power to make them do that. See here: https://educationdc.net/2016/03/24/performance-oversight-tidbits-deputy-mayor-for-education/

[6] Some of this data was used for facts sheets for the cross sector task force, but most appears to have been part of the master facilities plan supplement.

[7] See page 6ff of the MFP supplement, available here: http://dme.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dme/publication/attachments/SY15%20MFP%20Annual%20Supplement3%207%2016.pdf

[8] It is not clear if the city still has the public information about square footage and programmatic capacities for these buildings—but it should, given that many are still owned by the city and leased.

[9] Depending on how one calculates this, the charter closure rate goes from a low of 33% to a high of 40%. The NRC report on mayoral control of schools (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_165783.pdf) noted that 102 charters have been granted in DC since 1996, with 38 since closed and 8 never opened, making for a charter closure rate approaching 40%. A report from the Progressive Policy Institute (http://www.progressivepolicy.org/slider/tale-of-two-systems-education-reform-in-washington-d-c/) notes that a third of all charters have closed between 1998 and 2015, making a closure rate of 33%. See https://educationdc.net/2015/10/07/predicting-the-education-future-in-dc/

 

Adding in DCPS closures makes the school closure rates even more stark. Using 21st Century School Fund data, I counted all DCPS schools closed since 1996, when charters started here. I got 65 schools closed. If you add to this the NRC number of closed charter schools since 1996, you get a total of 103 public schools closed (65 + 38) since 1996, for a closure rate of 51 public schools per decade–or 5 entire public schools closed every year on average in the last 20 years.

 

That is a huge number to sustain for both communities and resources in our city. Add to that the fact that the head of MySchoolDC, the DC public school lottery, testified in March before the council that the most important factor for parents choosing schools is proximity to their home.

 

Our high rates of school closures simply prevent parents from enacting school choice, all the while decimating communities that depend on those schools.

 

[10] Let us not forget another piece vital to education planning: the growth of the student population and the growth of the number of schools. In DC, we do the latter far more than the former. In 1999-2000, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students (data from the 21st Century School Fund).

 

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), we have 38 more public schools (20% growth). Each school created requires infrastructure and staffing, raising costs overall. The mismeasure between those numbers adds to those costs.

 

And adding to all those costs is the high rate of school closures, as detailed in footnote 9 above.

 

Simply put, if we want to plan well for our public school students and save money while doing so, we need to stop creating and closing so many schools.

 

I have found nothing among the materials the DME cites or creates that mentions this.

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