Mary Levy 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

As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a DCPS parent, I have studied DCPS data and policies for almost 40 years, including the period when both our daughters were going through DCPS, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

For the last month, I have been studying local school budgets, first as initial budget allocations released by DCPS, then for the last week the Mayor’s budget versions.  For your information, these are two different sets of numbers that cannot be matched, because of differing assumptions on teacher costs and because the definitions are largely different.  A plea:  Please put a stop to this!  Why is DCPS keeping two different sets of books?

The initial allocations can only be described as inadequate, inequitable, un-transparent, and arbitrary.  Schools are affected very differently from each other, but cuts are disproportionately concentrated East of the River, and among at-risk, minority students, those most vulnerable to the ill effects of the de-stabilization caused by big budget cuts.

  • Local schools collectively have a total increase on paper of $56.2 M, but that is completely absorbed by inflationary increases in costs of staff ($26.9 M), transfer of security charges from central ($20.7 M), enrollment increase (excluding new schools, $6.0 M), and new school openings ($14.2 M), a total of $67.8 M. The deficit of $11.6 M is covered by program cuts in the schools.
  • Adjusting the budgets to eliminate the reduction in buying power caused by the inflation in staff costs and the security cost transfer results in each school’s “real dollars” for next year. Some still have enough to maintain current services, but some not enough for enrollment increase, and half must cut current services including schools with no loss or even increases in enrollment.
  • Altogether half the schools lost funding in real dollars. Seven schools lost over $1 M, and 6 more between $500,000 and $1 million.  Nine of these are East of the River, almost all are 99-100% minority and heavily at-risk,
  • The stabilization law limits dollar loss to 5% of each school’s budget this year, but doesn’t recognize inflation from staff cost increases and the new security charge. Even so, some schools have losses over 5% but no stabilization funds. Why?
  • Most elementary schools whose extended year programs were eliminated lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, though program was funded by at-risk funds which they kept. Why are they losing money?  Two lost almost $1 million!  DCPS did not provide stabilization funds for any of them.
  • When the special needs funding at each school is factored out, leaving “general education,” there is a general correlation in per pupil allocation by size, but still big differences not related to size or special needs. For example, there are pairs of schools in Wards 7 and 8, with the same enrollment, but a difference in allocations of $2,000 per pupil. Why?
  • DCPS has not released information on the use of at-risk funds. Although amounts are now tracked in the Mayor’s budget, they are labeled only as “At-Risk.”  Analysis of the initial allocations shows that half the funding is used for resources that are targeted to at-risk students, but the other half is in resources to which all students in all schools are entitled, meaning that they apparently supplant regular funds.

The Mayor’s budget increase in local funds is about $48 M, and that budget shows an increase in local school budgets of $50.4 M, as opposed to the $56.2 M in the DCPS version.  but

As to central accounts, as opposed to local school budgets, the Mayor’s budget of a week ago provides the first data we have seen.  Central accounts do include services provided directly to students, mostly in schools, including utilities, food service, special education therapists and dedicated aides, athletics, plus a host of functions that are included in teacher cost in the DCPS versions of school budgets but are clawed back into central accounts in the Mayor’s budget.  These include background checks, IMPACT bonuses, extra year options, substitutes, and more.

The challenge in determining central office spending is to separate these costs out.  They are included in the parts of the budget labeled “Schoolwide” and “School Support,” but these also include security operations other than school security guards, parts of downtown business services like procurement, warehouse and budget operations, school planning, and all the operations that monitor teachers and principals.  Definitions are not available.  In any event, from analyzing employee rosters, it is clear that central offices are bloated, with far more employees than were in DCPS when enrollment was much larger.  DCPS has announced that it is cutting at least 70 central office positions, but the Mayor’s FY 2020 budget shows an increase of about 315  positions outside of local school budgets.  If I can eke out an answer, I will share it.

 

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