Rebecca Reina Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Budget Oversight Hearing of the District of Columbia Public Schools

 Friday, March 29, 2019

Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council is a volunteer organization that advocates for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while assuring we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both public educational sectors.

I am also the mother of 2 Cleveland Elementary School students, where I have in the past served on the PTA and LSAT. Thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback on the DC Public Schools budget.

The proposed DCPS budget for FY20 is inadequate and inequitable. Some schools are winners and some are losers. Some of the schools losing money year over year face cuts so steep that they could literally destabilize the schools; those are largely the schools that serve the highest percentages of At Risk students. Even many of the schools that are not losing money cannot adequately meet the needs of their students who have the most needs. At Risk funding continues to supplant, not supplement funding for core functions.  Having spoken to many principals throughout the city, many spent a month focused almost entirely on negotiating their unreasonable initial budget allocations with Central Office and attempting to creatively fill remaining gaps. Schools use inadequate funds the best they can, making choices like cutting badly needed interventionists or hiring additional aides rather than teachers to stretch their budgets. DCPS school-based staff continue to fear discussing their seemingly now-adequate budgets out of fear that their jerry-rigged fixes will be pulled back or they will be retaliated against for speaking out.

This budget puts many of our DCPS schools in crisis.

These inadequate, inequitable budgets are formed through a broken process, which should be reformed by:

  1. Creating targeted stimulus funds for by-right schools to ensure every school in our feeder patterns in every part of the city remain viable – say 30 million this year across schools serving the most At Risk students, with a focus on our under-capacity comprehensive high schools like Anacostia, Ballou, and Woodson. We cannot close more schools; to help struggling schools we must invest in them. We can and should provide these schools with funding to provide full teaching staffs for a truly comprehensive curriculum, wraparound services, interventionists, and adequate extracurriculars – all the things that attract families to a school. This stimulus could increase for FY21 and if successful, could gradually decline over a period of years as programs become more self-sustaining.
  2. Beginning the budget process – in earnest, with actual numbers – in the fall with schools rather than weeks or days before they are due.
  3. Ending or drastically reforming the Comprehensive Staffing Model.
  4. Ending zero based budgeting, which creates wild swings from year to year.
  5. Taking security costs back out of local budgets.  Individual schools have no control over security costs and it is inappropriate to use security costs to soften budget cuts, thereby preventing schools from receiving stabilization funds.
  6. Fixing enrollment projections by:
    • Changing count day. October is when charter schools have their highest enrollment and DCPS schools have their lowest. The reverse is true in the spring. Many of our students are transient within the jurisdiction, with others moving into the system throughout the year.  We need to move count day to the spring or aggregate two count days, fall and spring, to adequately fund our DCPS schools to match the number of students enrolled in reality.
    • Offering seats in the lottery based on school capacity and neighborhood and system needs, not based solely on a school’s current staffing level. There is a disincentive to release more seats into the lottery, if actual enrollment increases do not result in adequate additional funding to properly staff for the increases. If we staff our schools adequately, we can than bring them up to building capacity in neighborhoods where we are not yet filling them.
    • Admit that projecting enrollments is as much art as science. Project enrollment based on more than two past years and stop assuming that history is future. Neighborhoods are changing and our enrollment projections should track those changes.

Finally, I want to thank DCPS and Councilmember Grosso for your focus on technology this budget season. It’s badly needed. I hope the technology audit and systemwide plans include SMARTboards and ongoing maintenance for all types of devices. I am heartened to see DCPS listening to parents and I know we can continue this collaboration to affect larger improvements for all our students.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

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