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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Updated 4/15/2016 with final version.

DC Public Schools Budget Hearing

April 14, 2016

Suzanne Wells

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening on the DC Public Schools SY2017 budget.  The focus of my testimony this evening will be on middle schools.  My daughter is currently a 5th grader in the Tyler Elementary Spanish Immersion program, and she will be attending Eliot-Hine Middle School, our in-bound middle school, next year.

I want to thank DCPS and the Eliot-Hine principal, Tynika Young, for the efforts over the past several years to work towards Eliot-Hine becoming an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.  These efforts resulted in the school becoming an authorized IB programme this past November.  It is my hope the IB programme will provide an engaging and challenging curriculum for all students attending the school.

There is much talk about the middle schools being a weak link for DCPS, and Mayor Bowser even campaigned on the slogan “Alice Deal for All.” While there is much talk about supporting the middle schools, one area that is seriously lacking is the modernization of the middle school buildings.  The recently released Capital Improvement Plan does seem to have budgeted what are believed to be more realistic numbers for the costs of renovations, yet it is not clear how these higher numbers were determined.  In Ward 6, the middle schools are far back in the renovation queue.  Eliot-Hine Middle School is not scheduled to be renovated until 2019, Jefferson Middle School is not scheduled to be renovated until 2021, and Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan which contains a middle school was not even included in the 2017 – 2022 Capital Improvement Plan.  All students starting at Eliot-Hine and Jefferson next year will be in high school before the buildings are renovated, and it will be even longer for the Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan students.  This doesn’t seem like an Alice Deal for All.

These middle schools are struggling, often through no fault of their own.  They face intense marketing from charter schools that often start at 5th grade, and draw away families who are concerned about their middle school opportunities.  The condition of the buildings also doesn’t help to attract families.  When windows have to be opened in the winter because the classrooms get overheated, or the air conditioners in the warmer months are so loud the students can’t hear the teacher, or the lighting is poor, families often look elsewhere for middle school.

Yet these middle schools present tremendous opportunities for DCPS.  For example, the Eliot-Hine building sits on 6.4 acres of land on the edge of Capitol Hill.  It’s not hard to imagine families choosing to send their children to an authorized IB Middle Years programme in a renovated building that meets the criteria for a Green Ribbon School and sits on a 6.4 acre campus that they can walk to each day.

I encourage the Education Council and the Mayor to find a way to move these middle schools up in the renovation queue in the current Capital Improvement Plan.  Respected organizations like the 21st Century School Fund have repeatedly identified the need for greater cost accountability and oversight in the DCPS modernizations.  There should be savings on the modernizations projects since the city will no longer be doing summer renovation blitzes.  There may be opportunities to reduce some of the modernization estimates if we have a better understanding of the estimated square foot costs for the individual school modernizations, and find some can be reduced while still providing high-quality renovations. Savings achieved from greater accountability and oversight, moving away from summer blitzes, and any possible reduced square foot cost estimates could be put toward our middle schools.  Our city’s middle school students are too important to have their modernizations delayed any longer.

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