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Testimony of Max Kieba — DCPS Budget Oversight Hearing — April 27, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Max Kieba.  I am a Ward 6 Resident and parent at Maury Elementary.

Need for additional per pupil funding and non-personnel funding support, going directly to schools, with flexibility for the schools on how they’re used.

I was happy to see DCPS committed to driving as much funding as possible to the school level with 83.5% of all funds being sent directly to schools and additional 13.2% for school support (reference DCPS hearing responses, Q5.)   However, we need more in per pupil funding put into the pot in the first place.   The general sense is that 1.5% increase just isn’t cutting it.   We also need additional funds for non-personnel spending (supplies, professional development, etc.)    Using just our school budget as an example but understanding this is an impact district-wide… there were increases in personnel budgets as the cost of a teacher increased due largely to cost of living increases.  However, those costs didn’t actually translate to increased salaries to teachers/staff.  In fact we had to cut certain support positions and continue to have to submit petitions for things like a full time STEM teacher and in the case of this year an additional 3rd grade teacher.  Schools should not have to petition for things like a STEM teacher… every school should have that.  Furthermore, budgets for non-personnel spending were reduced.  In our case we were left with just over $38,000 for everything, which included roughly $9000 for mandatary funding for specials.  What you’re left with isn’t much to run a school or support our teachers and students.   In our case, we’re fortunate that our PTA is able to raise a fair amount to help support and we come up with other creative ways to make it work (for instance this week along we had a call out for home-made ice packs.)   However, schools should not have to rely on parent funding support to get it done and not every school is able to raise funds.  

Tracking and support for students moving mid-year – additional details?

In with line supporting the students directly, it’s critical we continue to look at ways to track and continue to support the students that might move mid-year regardless of which sector they move from or to.  I was happy to see in the draft budget summary package that there was a bullet talking about improving technology to help parents navigate and engage in public education, specifically parent portal for DCPS; extending MySchoolDC for mid-year entries and transfers; and launching a new MyChildCareDC site.   However, I’m having trouble seeing much detail behind the MySchool DC extensions for mid-year entries in either the budget or the DME responses.  Can you shed more light on the details?

Modernization Process and some Budget outlook Improvements Seen, but more Work to be Done

Looking big picture on where we’ve come in only the last couple of years, we are seeing some improvements in the overall process.  Communication and public engagement through multiple levels at DCPS is improving at least based on the Maury experience.    We are thankful to have additional funding proposed that was identified as being needed per the process.   We hope that at least that number sticks through the budget review process with more details to be shaken out as the SIT process continues.   We also want to acknowledge the chancellor’s efforts in meeting with staff to get their input and making some tough but sound decision on swing space.  DCPS has told us we should be seeing new ed specs soon.    Some other pieces do remain frustrating, particularly DGS’ ability to move along on their responsibilities.  As just one example, we still don’t have a design-build architect in place for proposals that came in January.   It’s tough to move along the process much more without having the architect in place.    I know we’re not alone in raising frustration with DGS on their ability to move along on both big and even smaller items.

From an overall budget and prioritization perspective, there are some improvements seen that should be acknowledged.  Whereas in year’s past those 6 year funding numbers were all over the map and could change substantially from one year to the next or some schools completely lose funding they previously had promised, it appears to have settled somewhat comparing this year to last year.  For the most part the 6 year numbers for projects already in the cue are remaining consistent, and the next schools in the matrix are slowly but surely moving up.  

There is some general disappointment that we can’t get more schools still waiting started sooner, even if it’s just initial start of the SIT and feasibility planning discussions.  It should be acknowledged we are in a big transition year with PACE Act requirements in the process of being implemented (with some not due until later this year), new ed specs coming out, a master facilities plan in development, new chancellor in place and a relatively limited number of SIT support staff and some might argue a limited number of quality design and construction contractors that can only manage so many projects at once.   We also have many priorities we’re trying to address.   

However, realistically speaking the initial planning/feasibility stage takes a good 1-1.5 years or so before you even have an initial idea of what the individual school truly needs/wants, what is feasible and what the costs might be.    Without those initial discussions, really anything in the 6 year plan is just a guess or based on a crude square footage estimate.   On how exactly we find the money to get it done, I leave that to others to decide.  I have heard the proposal to delay the estate tax threshold increase as one possible way to get additional funding and support that concept.  I’m sure there might be some other possibilities as well, but again defer to others.

Master facilities plan delays?

While more of a DME role than DCPS but still could impact the DCPS process, I was disappointed to hear the master facilities plan will be delayed and won’t be delivered by December 15, 2017.   If I’m understanding the DME Budget question responses correctly (reference Q8, pg 13) final submission won’t occur until April 2018? (i.e. around same time as draft budget.)  I do at least appreciate to see some apparent stakeholder engagement in October 2017 for the 33% draft and again in February 2018 prior to 100% draft in March and submission to council in April.

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