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Ivan Frishberg Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Council of the District of Columbia

Education Committee Budget Oversight Hearing

Testimony by Ivan Frishberg

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chairman Grosso and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Ivan Frishberg and I am a parent of two children at Brent Elementary. Our plan is to send those children to Jefferson Academy.

Last year you wisely responded to the city track record of wasteful spending, broken promises, and no clear plan or rationale to the CIP with a different approach.

You presented an approach for transparently assessing and prioritizing what we do with limited capital dollars. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a very big step forward.

The current budget proposal clearly responded to the need to focus on modernization as a priority and within that to focus on middle schools.

There are signs of progress, and I am happy for Eliot Hine. But I am even more disheartened about this administration’s ability to meet the objectives the committee laid out and DCPS said they agreed with. While you were taking a step forward, they largely executed business as usual.

  • The chart you produced to identify priorities has not become more sophisticated as it has emerged from DCPS, and the data behind it seems even less transparent. Not the latest available enrollment data. No measures of school success to indicate a school’s ability to grow and serve. No apparent progress on the data quality for population or building condition.
  • In Ward 6, Logan has a higher score than Jefferson and Eliot but disappears all together. Some schools win or lose by years based on statistically insignificant amounts on top of questionable data.
  • Jefferson was top of your list last year and got pushed off for two years. Then, Jefferson then does better on enrollment and test scores and some how drops down the list and gets pushed back two more years.
  • The planning money appropriated by this committee is not spent. Then DCPS says it is only for architects, not community planning. And the stabilization projects you appropriated funds for haven’t happened.

Jefferson has a wait list for 6th grade right now, is 4th ranked on PARCC across District Middle Schools. Each grade scores higher than the one before and the number of students at proficiency doubles from 6th to 8th grade. Jefferson does this with 23% Special Education and 99% Free and Reduced Lunch populations.

And now DCPS’ response to this success is to deprioritize the school and say wait until 2021 to fix the infrastructure.

And we are supposed to put our confidence in this budget and its priorities?

Absolutely not.

They should not have presented, and you should not approve, a budget that doesn’t answer these issues with data, rigor, transparency and a commitment to being straight with parents.

You have a choice:

Pass along the Mayor’s priorities with a few tweaks here and there. Or do what was promised last year by DCPS but which they have failed to. Set priorities and a CIP plan that is based on real data, real transparency and engagement, and real planning.

This Committee set that bar last year. Your budget is the law. You followed up with rigorous oversight. Asked the right questions. But if the administration can’t build what you provide funds for and they can’t meet the standard of budgeting and planning we had all agreed to, maybe you should start from scratch.

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