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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Budget Hearing

on the

District of Columbia Public Schools

Friday, March 29, 2019

            Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization, and the parent of an 8th grader at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

When the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) released the school report cards in December 2018, Eliot-Hine, a Title 1 school, was rated as a one-star school, ranked in the bottom 5% of all schools in DC, and designated as a Comprehensive Support School.  We learned last night that Eliot-Hine was selected to be a Connected School which will allow the school to become connected with partners and city agencies to offer a range of supports to students, families and staff.  Because of its Comprehensive Support status, Eliot-Hine will be receiving some additional funding.  Is the funding Eliot-Hine will receive enough?  No.  However, because of the school’s low enrollment, it is hard to justify funding it more.

While I don’t feel Eliot-Hine has served the current students at the school well, I am hopeful for its future.  This summer the planned renovation will begin.  We anticipate Principal Magrino will be back next year, and bring much needed stability and leadership to the school.  Training will be provided to staff this summer to strengthen the IB program. The DCPS enrollment team is working to make in-bound families aware of opportunities within the Eastern feeder pattern, e.g., the January Eastern Feeder Fest.  I firmly believe as result of all of these efforts, we will start to see more and more in-bound families choosing Eliot-Hine in the coming years.

We must ensure the same investments are happening at the schools in Wards 7 and 8 that have seen multi-year enrollment declines, and broken feeder patterns.  Targeted efforts in Wards 7 and 8 to fix broken feeder patterns and provide course offerings, experiences and safe passage to and from school that students in other parts of the city have will ensure Ward 7 and 8 families have what they say they want, i.e., quality in-bound schools to choose from, and will be the fiscally responsible thing for the city to do as families are attracted back to DCPS.

To date, as a city, we have not confronted the staggeringly inefficient use of resources.  Why when almost 18% of our city’s budget or close to $2 billion is spent on education are there discrepancies in offerings among our schools, and many school needs going unaddressed?  Why is there going to be a cut in, e.g., school librarians or technology maintenance?  I believe a key reason is we are inefficiently using our education dollars.

No one really understands the inefficient use of resources inherent in our two-sector school system, DCPS and the charter sector, that operates without any coordination.  DC has truly been a leader in investing in capital improvements to our school buildings, and I commend the Council for its support for the renovations of our DCPS schools. Yet many of these renovated schools are under enrolled.  Across the city we have many small and under-enrolled schools that cost more to run on a per student basis than a fully-enrolled school.   There’s no better example of this than our high schools where we fund nineteen high schools (four DCPS and 15 charters) that enroll fewer than 400 students.  These schools cost more to operate on a per student basis, and they don’t offer the students the educational opportunities and experiences they deserve.

Operating small and under-enrolled schools isn’t the only area where we see inefficiencies.  Taxpayers pay over $3,300 for a facilities allocation for every student attending a charter school while we have thousands of empty seats in many of the beautiful DCPS school buildings our city has renovated. And, there are 11 applications before the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) this spring to open new charter schools to serve 4000 additional students while we have over 20,000 vacant seats across both sectors.

In closing, I would like to ask the Council to explain why it makes sense to open up even one new school this year when there are vacant seats in both sectors.  I would also like to ask the Council to explain why it makes sense to open any new schools this spring instead of investing in strengthening the feeder patterns of our by-right school system.  And, I would like ask the Council to commission a budget study that identifies the inefficiencies in our City’s two sector/choice approach so we can reduce the inefficiencies, and put our tax dollars towards supporting students.

 

 

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