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Katy Thomas Testimony – DCPS Public Budget Hearing FY20 – November 27, 2018

SUBMITTED TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS PUBLIC FIELD HEARING ON FISCAL YEAR 2020 BUDGET PRIORITIES

I am the parent of two current Miner ES students and one future one. Our oldest is in first grade, our middle child is in PK4 and we have a rising PK3 child. My husband is serving his second term as a member of the LSAT and I currently serve as the PTO Vice President. Miner is our in-bounds neighborhood school and three blocks from our home. Having lived on Capitol Hill for nearly 20 years and witnessing the academic transformation of other public elementary schools on the Hill, our family is anxious for Miner to attain similar academic achievements. Living in a city with overwhelming education choice, it is clear solving Miner’s challenges will not happen quickly and in the interim, families do not hesitate to leave for better performing schools. In order for Miner to become a thriving neighborhood school, like many of our sister schools in Ward 6, I’m here tonight to ask DCPS to stand with us.

Like many other DCPS Title 1 schools, Miner has dealt with a wide variety of challenges throughout the past, some within the control of the school community, but the majority a result of a failed system. Many of the challenges could be resolved with a more common-sense based budget. The Miner FY2019 budget failed to provide enough resources to maintain our STEM teacher, adequate reading intervention support and SPED inclusion/resources. Sixty-six percent of our student body is classified as “at-risk”, sixteen percent of the student body has special needs with IEP’s, our 2018 math scores are 15 percent (-1.1% compared to 2017), ELA scores are 11 percent (+3.3% compared to 2017) and our enrollment is slowly increasing. The commitment by our new school leaders, combined with a more involved and engaged parent body signals a positive new direction, but our administration leaders and parent body cannot do this alone.

TECHNOLOGY
Technology is a critical resource which needs to be provided to schools equitably. Mandatory student testing is done online and myriad teaching tools rely on computers and working internet connections. In today’s world, students who are not digitally literate are being set up for failure. Many school districts across the country with similar demographics to DCPS have deployed comprehensive technology plans, strategies and dedicated funding streams to support implementation. There is no reason why the District cannot match or exceed what others have accomplished – it is not a matter of resources, but a matter of priorities and political will.

Miner’s PTO is part of a citywide coalition of parents seeking digital equity and technology reflective of the 21st century for all students and teachers. The core issue of concern is the DCPS placement of burden on individual schools for technology purchases and maintenance, despite the overwhelming evidence that individual schools lack the money and expertise to do this effectively. As a result, many schools – including
Miner, are struggling to have adequately functioning technology inside the building for students and teachers. The parent technology coalition identified three main factors affecting technology gaps at schools:

(1) time since a school’s modernization;
(2) level of PTA/PTO involvement; and
(3) flexibility in the school budget due to competing priorities.

These factors treat technology as if it were optional, but that is clearly not the case. Miner invests in blended learning programs beginning with Kindergarten students, spending precious resources to pay for web-based program licenses for Lexia, ST Math and others. Much of this investment could be viewed as a waste of money because there is virtually no funding available for classroom devices to access the online programs.
Miner 1st grade students have limited time scheduled and access to four low functioning (if operable at all) computers in their math classroom to practice web-based ST Math. The limited amount of time the teacher is able to devote to ST Math is consumed by computers freezing/crashing/not working at all or helping students log into the computer AND programming, many of whom have limited familiarity with a keyboard/mouse. One Kindergarten teacher has recently asked the PTO to fund classroom devices with QR readers because those students, like their 1st grade counterparts who have no access to technology at home and are allotted limited school time, spend the majority of designated time trying to log into their accounts.
Miner was one of eight DCPS elementary schools reviewed in the October 2017 Office of the DC Auditor’s (ODCA) budgeting report, Budgeting and Staffing at Eight DCPS Elementary Schools. The report quotes a central office staffer noting, “Miner student technology is in desperate need of an upgrade.” In response to the Auditor’s report, then-Chancellor Antwan Wilson stated DCPS agreed with the recommendation to “create and make public a multi-year technology needs plan to define and provide adequate technology to each school.” The Technology Roadmap and appropriate funding request was expected by many to be part of DCPS’ FY2019 budget, yet here we are more than one year later with no Technology Roadmap and another school year underway without adequate technology for students.

The 2017 auditor’s report highlighted Miner seeking and winning approval to shift $5,580 in its budget from “at-risk technology” to “equipment and machinery” in order to upgrade computer hardware and equipment. With DCPS-approved student laptops costing approximately $560 each, those at-risk technology funds would purchase less than ten computers, for a building of more than 350 students. For Miner to refresh student computer supply per DCPS guidelines (every four years and assuming a 3:1 student-device ratio), we need nearly $17,000 per year, far more than what can be accommodated within existing general and at-risk budget allocations. This calculation excludes teacher laptops and classroom technology such as Smartboards, projectors or document cameras.

I’ve attached a copy of the July 12, 2018 article published in the Washington City Paper, “Access to Technology in DC Public Schools is Deeply Unequal”, which provides examples of teachers and PTA’s fundraising for technology resources, the overwhelming inequity between schools who have the capacity to fundraise vs those who do not, and the systemic failure of the budget model (computers competing against paper/pencils/desks) to adequately fund technology. At last year’s DCPS budget field hearing, I challenged Chancellor Wilson and his staff to perform their jobs on the technology utilized by Miner students and staff; I posed the same challenge to Council Education Committee Chairman Grosso and members of that committee and the Council at large when I testified on the FY19 budget. I suspect living up to the DCPS at-risk technology policy statements and investing in technology would soon find its way to becoming a budget priority if my challenge were accepted.

I urge you to release the Technology Roadmap as former Chancellor Wilson stated was in process last fall, share a timeline for engagement with school-based leaders, teachers, students, parents and members of the community and indicate how long students and schools will have to wait before the overwhelming need for technology is addressed. At minimum, a DCPS Technology Roadmap should standardize how many devices are required per classroom/student in each grade; how many Smart Boards/projectors and other technology-based teaching implements are required and the frequency with which each should be refreshed. Those identified needs and requirements should be fulfilled by DCPS in FY2020 with new budget funding, not redirected from existing budget funds. The parent community I’ve witnessed come together in the past few months is dedicated to doing its part to advocate for more resources to address the technology gap, but DCPS needs to do its part to push for technology funding in the Mayor’s FY20 budget proposal. Parents cannot do it alone.

AT-RISK FUNDING
A Washington Post article published last spring put a fresh spotlight on how DCPS budgeting is not meeting its obligations for schools and more importantly, at-risk children within our schools. The article arrived on the heels of testimony before the DC Council’s Education Committee, and specifically DCPS budget analyst volunteer extraordinaire Mary Levy, who pointed out DCPS continues to use at-risk funds to supplant core program funding in direct violation of the law.

The 2017 ODCA report provided great detail regarding schools being forced to use at-risk resources to fund core staffing positions and other fundamental school needs. ODCA reported Miner is compliant with CSM standards, only because 1.5 related arts positions were funded through at-risk dollars. “Five of the eight schools in this study—Bancroft, Barnard, Miner, Nalle, and Moten—funded some of their related-arts positions using supplemental at-risk dollars. Without the positions funded by at-risk dollars, Barnard, Miner, and Moten would have fallen short of the related arts staffing levels prescribed in the CSM.” When I raised this issue before the Council’s Education Committee last spring, I was promptly informed that at-risk funding is “complicated”. While I don’t doubt it is complicated to ensure the law is followed, I would argue in a city brimming with smart, highly compensated education policy professionals, a solution can be found to address the widely-acknowledged breach of intent. We don’t have the luxury to hit the pause button to get through the scandal de jour; students still need educating, buildings still need maintenance and at-risk kids still need more resources.

The ODCA report also highlighted the wholly inadequate budget made available to schools with students facing extraordinary challenges outside the classroom. “At four schools—Noyes, Miner, Nalle, and Moten—interviewees stated that the challenge of serving needy students from struggling communities overwhelmed the social-emotional resources of the school. There is “never enough mental health support,” one teacher stated, because “students see so much outside of school that they bring to the classroom.” Another teacher explained that even the outstanding social-emotional staff at her school cannot meet the needs of children who have limited capacity to learn because they are trying to survive. Similarly, a parent who stated that his school needed more counselors noted that, “A lot of these kids are raising themselves.”

I will continue press the Mayor and City Council to explain why so much non-education support, such as social workers and psychologists consumes such a significant amount of the education budget. Schools cannot succeed in doing their prescribed job of teaching when they have to cut the number of teacher positions in order to provide social/emotional support. Schools receive resources from other agencies such as MPD for school security offices, Department of Health for school nurses and Department of Transportation for crossing guards, yet are required to use education funds to pay for social/emotional supports. The Department of Health and Child and Family Services are designed to provide the means to address social and emotional support and should be providing the necessary budget to meet these needs for our school children. I urge DPCS to join the community of parents and leaders calling on the Mayor and Council to address this budgeting shift.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE INITIATIVE
Miner is a participating school in DCPS’ Restorative Justice (RJ) Initiative for both community building and as a response to student behavior. We witnessed an overwhelming reduction of suspensions during SY17-18 compared to the previous year. For the initial year of RJ implementation at Miner, a handful of trained adults were using reactive circles in order to respond to occurrences of misbehavior; teachers were encouraged to conduct community building (proactive) circles; and one of our fifth grade teachers will soon begin hosting an optional morning PD for teachers on restorative justice practices. Over the course of the next two school years, Miner will fully develop the RJ program so long as budget resources are made available.

Unfortunately, Miner is not provided with adequate resources from DCPS to ensure RJ is comprehensively implemented schoolwide. Our administrative leaders have had to expend their limited time tracking down and applying for non-DCPS grant funds in hopes to achieve the full positive impacts of RJ. Additionally, the middle and high schools in our feeder pattern (Eliot Hine and Eastern) are not participating in the same manner as Miner in this highly-effective program due to the lack of funding. Successful implementation of RJ takes three to five years in order to fully develop the skill set among staff, teachers and students. It would be a significant step backwards for a student moving from an elementary school with RJ into a middle school or high school without RJ programs implemented. DCPS has a publicly stated goal of developing a three-year ongoing implementation and support plan to scale the program; I urge you to fully fund the RJ program and ensure the implementation plan will prioritize scaling within the same feeder pattern, rather than randomly increasing the number of schools participating each year.

CONCLUSION
Miner has so much potential to be the next success story, but we cannot do it alone. Clearly there is more work to be done, more investment to be made and more accountability and oversight to happen. I look forward to working you to ensure we are doing everything possible to set our children up for success. Miner will never “make the turn” if limited to the per pupil budget allocation or when extra at-risk resources are spent on fundamental needs or if our enrollment doesn’t hit the magic 400 target or when our funding doesn’t reflect inflation. I’m here tonight to ask DCPS to join forces with the current families who want more for Miner. We want to be a thriving neighborhood school that supports all students, but we can’t do it alone.

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