Testimony for Max Kieba, Maury Elementary School
DC Council Committee on Education Budget Oversight Hearing
District of Columbia Public Schools
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Max Kieba, also known as Wyatt (Kindergarten) and Hadley’s (PreK-3) dad. I’m a member of the PTA, serve as Maury’s School Improvement Team (SIT) Co-Chair and speaking on behalf of Maury’s LSAT. I’m here to give perspective on the SIT process, modernization funding through the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), and operational budget issues as they relate to at-risk funding.
Proposed Maury funds in CIP
Maury is thankful that additional funds were proposed for our project, with a start of construction scheduled for summer 2017. We can’t confidently say yet if we feel that is the right number as we’re still in the feasibility study review stage with DCPS and DGS, with a number of issues with the 2 scenarios presented to the SIT and 2 other scenarios that were done by the feasibility architect and submitted to DCPS that DCPS is not yet comfortable sharing for discussion. At a minimum we hope the number proposed in this budget sticks, but it may possibly need to be more. We also understand budgets are tight, so if that’s the best we can get, we’ll make it work. We are committed to continue to work with DCPS and DGS to try to come up with a reasonable project that’s acceptable to all.
Confusion on available modernization funds
There continues to be confusion on the exact project numbers being proposed, total life cycle appropriation, and if/how prior spent and balance funds are calculated. Maury’s example is below, but some clean-up of how budgets are presented in the future could help address a lot of issues people have with understanding the numbers.
Overall SIT Process
There are some improvements being seen in the overall SIT process, including the thought process of sequencing schools and managing swing space effectively, particularly some schools close to each other geographically. For instance, while it hasn’t been decided if Maury will need to go to swing space and where, t it’s very likely Maury will need to swing with Eliot-Hine (E-H) seeming to be the logical choice. If Watkins is done on time, it makes sense for Maury to swing to E-H and when Maury is done, modernize E-H. Some could certainly argue E-H should move up and Maury delayed or at least swing somewhere else. Maury being delayed further is not a popular or even practical choice without more help addressing space issues such as bring additional trailers on site to an already tight footprint. Such discussions would need to be done properly with the community, but if it ends up being a choice of waiting with some additional trailers and swinging to E-H vs. Maury staying on schedule but swinging somewhere else further away with more transportation issues into the equation, the pros/cons get more interesting.
Modernization fund big picture
Looking at the big picture, it’s great we have more modernization funds this year but the numbers and timing are all over the map. Some schools got a bunch of funds, some a little (or not at all) and some in between. It’s good we’re throwing money at the problem, but are we addressing the problem appropriately, in a fair, equitable, transparent, etc. way? And are the numbers the right ones, particularly for many schools that haven’t even started a SIT or even completed feasibility study
Individual school snubs
This committee came up with a great idea last year of at least providing some seed funds for schools to start the SIT process even if we didn’t have funds to start construction right away. Unfortunately, those SIT processes started way too late or didn’t happen at all. It was great they finally got the SIT process going for E-H, but was disappointed to see that Jefferson never got theirs and now has that $1.5M taken away or at least pushed off further down the road. Other schools like Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML) keep getting pushed off but in desperate need to happen. If we can’t move up CHML completed, can we at least figure out a way to get some seed funds to start a SIT? The excuse we’ve heard from DCPS and even DME Niles is we just don’t have the funds to do the project now. Per DCPS’s own SIT guidelines, the feasibility study/design phase takes a good 12-18 months before construction. Also, budgets shouldn’t even come into play that early. I thought the intent of the feasibility study is to get input on the needs of the community and develop some high level blocking of resources given the ed spec and school’s overall footprint. Budgets should not really come into play until further down the road.
Funding for at-risk students
Our LSAT has discussed the large drop-off in “Title” funding that happens when a school loses Title I eligibility and the challenges this creates in meeting the needs of the remaining at-risk students.
A DCPS school is eligible for a Title I Schoolwide Program if 40% or more of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, or a Title I Targeted Assistance Program if between 35-40% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Schools with less than 35% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch are considered Non-Title I. Non-Title I schools receive Title II, Part A funding which is used to support professional development for teachers and principals.
Since Title I is implemented as a threshold program, there is a large reduction in Title funding when a school dips below the 35% threshold. For example, another Ward 6 school with a similar total enrollment has a Title allocation of $166,000 (primarily from Title I) for FY17, while Maury has a Title allocation of only $9,600 (from Title II).
Even though Maury is no longer a Title I school, we still had 38% of students who were classified as economically disadvantaged in the PARCC testing grades 3 through 5 last year. These students still have needs, but we don’t get Title I resources to help address their individual needs.
Maury’s Title allocation + “at-risk payment” line item works out to only $171 per at-risk student. For the other Ward 6 school mentioned before, the Title allocation + at-risk payment line item provides $1,031 per at-risk student. Certainly schools with higher at-risk populations should get more funding overall, however non-Title I schools like Maury are getting substantially less for each individual at-risk student. This makes it more difficult to provide targeted interventions like after-school programs or coaching for math and reading. The individual kids are still at-risk, even if the school as a whole has passed below a percentage threshold.
It would be helpful if the Title I funds could follow the individual students and be provided on a more equitable per student basis. Alternatively, the “at-risk payment” line item of the DCPS school funding model could be used to provide more equitable levels of funding for every economically disadvantaged student.
A comparison of Maury and Miner is below. This is not intended to try to compete with or complain about another school in our feeder pattern. If anything, Miner is doing great and should continue to get any funding it can to improve an already great community. If anything though, it might make sense for schools to be more consistent with one another, particularly within a given feeder. Wouldn’t it be great if we somehow figured this out on a feeder pattern by feeder pattern basis, maybe get Maury, Miner and Payne, and even E-H and Eastern all together in a discussion with DCPS to talk about per at-risk student funding so regardless of where they start in the feeder, students get the help they need and hopefully get consistent funding as they stay within the feeder. In general too at-risk funds should supplement, not replace other funding mechanisms. This is now just an issue at these schools, but Eastern as well.
Calculations, Based on FY17 initial budget allocations
Maury ES proj. enrollment = 400, 14% at-risk or 56 students.
Title funding = $9,575.
At-risk payment line item = $0
($9,575 + $0)/56 = $171 per at-risk student
Miner ES proj. enrollment = 398, 70% at-risk or 279 students.
Title funding = $165,830.
At-risk payment line item = $121,928
($165,830 + $121,928)/279 = $1,031 per at-risk student