Chairman Grosso’s Education Budget Increases Modernization Dollars, Rejects Methodology of Mayor’s Budget But Largely Sticks to Plan

Some important changes for Ward 6 included in draft council proposal

Today, DC Council Committee on Education Chairman Grosso released his proposal and report for the education portion of the FY17 budget, including modernization funding and priorities. The Education Committee will vote on the Chairman’s proposal on Thursday, May 5. CHPSPO members involved in advocacy over the past year on these issues prepared a quick view of the draft proposal from Chairman Grosso.

As background: Over the last year there has been a sustained advocacy effort by the CHPSPO group, mostly focussed on modernizations and cross sector collaboration. Those efforts have stepped up in recent weeks in response to the Mayor’s budget proposal. Many, many parents turned out to testify, approximately 250 parents and others from across the city signed a letter asking for broad reform in the modernization process, and there has been continued dialogue with Councilmembers Grosso and Allen.

In the middle of all of this, several of our neighborhood schools have been dealing with the emergence of the lead in drinking water debacle and the failure of several agencies to prevent, respond to or communicate about this threat to kids’ health.

The combination of the budget and policy proposals from both the Education Committee and the Transportation and Environment Committee represent some true responsiveness to the school communities and some good policy making. But they also clarify just how far we have to go.

It is a particular victory that the Chairman has released a dramatically different prioritization matrix of capital projects in the schools than was proposed by DCPS.

While the Chairman’s matrix did not translate in to a significantly revised capital spending plan, it is a big qualitative step forward from the work done by DCPS and sets the stage for any new capital dollars that become available in the City. It also represents a big victory for the call for broad reform that CHPSPO has led.


Sign-on Letter to DC Council Education Committee Regarding School Modernization Funding

UPDATE 5/2/16 2:30PM: As of May 2nd, 249 people have signed onto this letter. Signers are from all Wards and represent a range of interests: parents, schools, individuals, and citywide organizations.

>> Final letter to the DC Committee on Education with 249 signatures


On April 20th, PTA and LSAT leaders and other members of the Capitol Hill Public School Parent Organization (CHPSPO) kicked off a sign-on letter to the DC Committee on Education as an effort to engage parents and school leaders in all wards to fight for a more rigorous, transparent school modernization approach for all.

The letter calls on the DC Council Education Committee to “reject the Mayor’s FY2017-FY2022 DCPS Capital Improvement Plan as it is proposed” and requests a plan with clearer rationale and accurate and transparent data. It was signed initially by 31 parent leaders and sent to Committee members on April 20 in advance of the DCPS oversight hearing on April 21.

We hope more parents, teachers, school leaders, and community members will join us.
> Read the letter and sign on here


Last year the Committee on Education wisely responded to the city’s poor track record of wasteful spending, broken school promises, and no clear plan or rationale to the Capital Improvements Plan with a data-driven approach of transparently assessing and prioritizing what we do with limited capital dollars. It wasn’t a perfect matrix, but it was a big step forward and included an opportunity for public input on the values and data underlying the approach.

The Mayor’s current Capital Improvement budget proposal responds to the need to focus on school modernization as a priority — but the Mayor’s plan as proposed does not invest in our schools with a clear vision, transparent data, or evidence of efficient spending. Nor was any public engagement or findings of the recent 21st Century School Fund historical modernization analysis part of determining the DCPS matrix used to develop the budget.

The fiscal and educational impact of this plan is so significant that we call on the City Council to use its oversight role to require more rigor from the Mayor and DCPS in the data, transparency, and criteria used to create this plan.

We ask that the Committee not allow any modernization budget to be approved until the following five specific elements are included (as detailed in the sign-on letter):

* Stabilization Plan Based on Health and Safety Needs of All Schools
* Accurate and Transparent Data
* Consistent and Relevant Method
* Incentives to Get Better Value from Project Expenditures.
* Fix All in 6: Council should commit to funding over the next 6 years every school’s modernization needs.



Carys Gill Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Testimony of Carys Gill

Student, J.O. Wilson Elementary

to the DC Council Committee on Education

April 14, 2016

For more information: iris007gill (at) gmail (dot) com.


Good evening Council Members.

My name is Carys Gill and I am in Ms. Gruse’s second grade-class at J.O. Wilson Elementary School.

I am proud to be here today to represent my school, my community, and my classmates.

I hope you will support J.O. Wilson Elementary School and I hope you will come to visit us.

You can see our awesome school garden— we even got chickens last week.

You can meet our cool teachers.

And you can see what a great place it is to learn.

We are a growing school that is doing well. But our school building isn’t as good as it should be.

Kids have to wait in long lines for lunch, which means we run out of time to play outside.

Kids have been hurt by the building when sinks fall off the bathroom walls.

And Kids have to take indoor recess in classrooms or hallways because we don’t have a gym.

I love my school. But right now, not everyone who wants to be a Cardinal, can be one. If kids are in wheelchairs or need help to get around, they have to go to a different school— one that has an elevator or ramps. That’s just not right!

We want our school to be a place for everyone and we want to welcome anybody who wants to come.

In our school pledge we say,

“I will act in such a way that I will be proud of myself and others will

be proud of me too. I came to school to learn and I will learn. I will

have a great day.”


Evan Yeats Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Testimony of Evan Yeats

Parent, J.O. Wilson Elementary

to the DC Council Committee on Education

April 14, 2016

For more information: evan.yeats (at) gmail (dot) com


Good evening members of the committee. My name is Evan Yeats, and I’m the parent of a pre-kindergarten student at J.O. Wilson. I’m a resident of Petworth in Ward 4, and we’re one of many out-of-boundary parents that have found a home at J.O. Wilson.

I wanted to start by thanking both the Chairman and the Mayor for working to find a system to determine when school renovations occur that is based more in data and less in politics and influence. It’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Perhaps it’s because my son’s school gets left behind in these calculations, but I can’t help but worry about four criteria that got left off the funding formulas:

ADA accessibility: you’ve heard this concern from the other two parents up here, and I can’t help but emphasize it again. We believe that all children should be able to get the quality education our children are getting, and right now, that’s not possible. Right now, we have no idea if or when that issue will be fixed and urge you to include ADA accessibility as part of your renovation formula. A school should be accessible for the whole community.

Date of last renovation: By not considering the scope of the renovation, this scoring negatively impacts schools that have been already negatively impacted by the now-abandoned phased renovation system. At J.O. Wilson, we received phase one of a three phase renovation – a phase that mainly consisted of replacing windows and the HVAC system over a portion of the building. A large portion of the building was not touched by this phase one, and the needs are clearly far greater than just new windows. Under this committee’s scoring system, we receive the same score as a school that was constructed new on the same date, while clearly our building is not in the same condition.

Health and safety concerns: while the formula used by this committee reflects the DGS “grades” assigned to the facilities, they don’t reflect real health & safety concerns of the population that are using them. The District is probably already be tracking, for liability purposes, a more useful metric – like building-related injury reports. If students and community members are being injured due to the condition of a DCPS facility, that should count in your rankings.

Equity of access to facilities: An indoor activity and play space, like a gym, is essential for elementary school children in a climate like Washington’s where a substantial portion of their recreation time is likely to be spent indoors. J.O. Wilson doesn’t have a gym, and that paired with high enrollment and high building utilization means that there is essentially no indoor recreation space. My son’s class takes indoor recess by literally running laps in the halls. In the committee’s formula, our school is the same priority as a (hypothetical) school that has a gym, an auditorium, a separate cafeteria or even a pool.

I believe, that like the parents and families at J.O. Wilson, that the Mayor and the members of this committee want to provide facilities for DCPS students that enable our children to learn and succeed. I admire the committee’s efforts to make a fairer, more transparent process for renovations. But I think that these categories need consideration, as well.

Thank you.


Iris Bond Gill Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Testimony of Iris Bond Gill

Parent, J.O. Wilson Elementary

to the DC Council Committee on Education

April 14, 2016

For more information: iris007gill (at) gmail (dot) com.


Good evening Chairman Grosso and Members of the Education Committee.

My name is Iris Bond Gill and I am parent of first and second grade students at J.O. Wilson Elementary School. I also serve on the executive board of the PTA and on the LSAT. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over a decade and am grateful that we have a strong neighborhood school that my children can walk to and attend.

I want to talk about some of the immediate health and safety challenges we face at J.O. Wilson.

Accessibility: One of our biggest challenges is the lack of ADA accessibility at our school. We have a three-level building with no elevator or chairlift, and none of the main entrances are wheelchair accessible. Our principal has had to turn students away because it was too difficult for them to get to classes. In 2016, in our nation’s capitol, this situation is unacceptable, and in the current budget, there is no schedule for this to change.  We thank our ANC commissioner who just yesterday put forth a resolution requesting ADA compliance for JO Wilson.

Stairwells: DGS rated our facilities as unsatisfactory or poor in two categories– “unsatisfactory in conveying” and “poor in stairwells” this year. This is the third year in a row that we’ve received poor ratings so we are saying now, on the record, that we need our stairwells upgraded to a safe standard for all students.

Cafeteria: While we received a partial phase one of a three-phase renovation several years ago, there is a large portion of our school that went untouched, including the cafeteria. Our cafeteria is overwhelmed by student demand. The huge uptick in enrollment at our school means that our only indoor space of any size, which also functions as an auditorium, is occupied for most of the day and the slow service–because our kitchen is inadequate to meet the high demand–prevents our children from getting the recess time they need after lunch.

Bathroom: And finally, this winter, a sink fell off a wall in a third floor bathroom while a student was using it. That student was injured by the shattering sink and had to go to the hospital for stitches. And that’s just one story that illustrates our need for bathroom upgrades throughout the building.

Our school is rapidly becoming an environment no longer conducive to learning. Yet we have no money allocated for renovations in this year’s budget or in any budget going forward.

We are specifically asking for two requests in the FY17 budget.

First, we need funding to remedy the health and safety concerns associated with the poor stairwells, lack of ADA accessibility, and bathrooms in need of repair.

Second, we need seed money to plan collaboratively with DCPS and DGS for the out-year renovations.

Families from all over the city are choosing JO Wilson. We’re sending our children at every grade level. We don’t experience the drop-off that other elementary schools experience after fourth grade. We have a very full fifth grade and we feed into a strong DCPS middle school. Our school is fully utilized from 7am until 6pm with one of the highest before and aftercare rates in the city.

This is a good problem to have and one way to continue to keep people is to have a great facility that can truly accommodate the daily wear and tear of school like ours. And the planning dollars will help us start this process of creating a smart and sustainable plan for our school.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns and requests with you today.


Andrea Tucker Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Testimony of Andrea Tucker

PTA President, J.O. Wilson Elementary

to the DC Council Committee on Education

April 14, 2016

For more information: andreatuckerhomes (at) gmail (dot) com

Good evening, Chairman Grosso and members of the Education Committee, and thank you for holding this budget hearing and inviting public testimony. We appreciate the opportunity to be here to represent our school at JO Wilson Elementary. We are Title I school that serves kids from Preschool through Fifth grade and we located in the heart of the NoMa/H Street community.

My name is Andrea Tucker and I am proud parent of three children at J.O. Wilson. I am also the President of the school’s PTA,  a native Washingtonian and a proud Alumni of J.O. Wilson. J.O. Wilson holds a special place in my heart. I have watched the school grow over the years as I have lived in the community right behind the school growing up.

My early education at J.O. provided me with the tools and opportunities I needed to succeed and I’m confident that it’s going to provide that same excellent education and opportunities for my children.

J.O. Wilson’s enrollment has grown tremendously in the five years since my children have been in attendance there and this year we have more than 500 children that attend our school.  Our numbers are continuously increasing yearly and we are maxing out capacity. According to the Deputy Mayor’s annual facilities review, we are currently at 96.4% capacity – one of the highest among Ward 6 elementary schools. Based on our enrollment projections for the 2016-2017 school year, we will be at almost 99% utilization come this time next year.

J.O. Wilson services children from all over the city and most of them are there all day. We have 77% of our children that participate in aftercare, which is one of the highest rates in the city.  Our Early Childhood program starts kids off on the right foot with a 94% attendance rate, which also is one of the highest rates in the city.  Most of our students stay at J.O. Wilson through the 5th grade.  We have 3 classes on every grade level which is unusual for an elementary school and an important first step to fixing our city’s difficult middle school challenges.

Our successes could quickly be set back if our facilities continue to languish and do not meet the high expectations that we expect from our scholars. Our children should be proud to come into a school that is warm and inviting and they feel comfortable learning in. Despite the challenges we face at our school, some of which are an inaccessible and non ADA compliant facility, a building that is literally falling apart in places, a lack of gym space and an outdated and inefficient cafeteria, we’ve succeeded.

The city has done a wonderful job with the High Schools, it’s now time to focus on our  Elementary Schools to create strong pathways. Elementary School is the beginning of our children’s education and without a firm foundation and adequate facilities our children cannot even advance and be prepared for the next level of education. Our students at J.O. Wilson have lots of challenges already. Many of our families are impacted by poverty, homelessness or other unconventional living situations, as well as language barriers.  In fact, for the upcoming school year it is projected that almost half our students will be considered “at risk” of academic failure.  Let’s not let the conditions of their school building be a challenge as well. Thank you.


Ivan Frishberg Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Council of the District of Columbia

Education Committee Budget Oversight Hearing

Testimony by Ivan Frishberg

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chairman Grosso and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Ivan Frishberg and I am a parent of two children at Brent Elementary. Our plan is to send those children to Jefferson Academy.

Last year you wisely responded to the city track record of wasteful spending, broken promises, and no clear plan or rationale to the CIP with a different approach.

You presented an approach for transparently assessing and prioritizing what we do with limited capital dollars. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a very big step forward.

The current budget proposal clearly responded to the need to focus on modernization as a priority and within that to focus on middle schools.

There are signs of progress, and I am happy for Eliot Hine. But I am even more disheartened about this administration’s ability to meet the objectives the committee laid out and DCPS said they agreed with. While you were taking a step forward, they largely executed business as usual.

  • The chart you produced to identify priorities has not become more sophisticated as it has emerged from DCPS, and the data behind it seems even less transparent. Not the latest available enrollment data. No measures of school success to indicate a school’s ability to grow and serve. No apparent progress on the data quality for population or building condition.
  • In Ward 6, Logan has a higher score than Jefferson and Eliot but disappears all together. Some schools win or lose by years based on statistically insignificant amounts on top of questionable data.
  • Jefferson was top of your list last year and got pushed off for two years. Then, Jefferson then does better on enrollment and test scores and some how drops down the list and gets pushed back two more years.
  • The planning money appropriated by this committee is not spent. Then DCPS says it is only for architects, not community planning. And the stabilization projects you appropriated funds for haven’t happened.

Jefferson has a wait list for 6th grade right now, is 4th ranked on PARCC across District Middle Schools. Each grade scores higher than the one before and the number of students at proficiency doubles from 6th to 8th grade. Jefferson does this with 23% Special Education and 99% Free and Reduced Lunch populations.

And now DCPS’ response to this success is to deprioritize the school and say wait until 2021 to fix the infrastructure.

And we are supposed to put our confidence in this budget and its priorities?

Absolutely not.

They should not have presented, and you should not approve, a budget that doesn’t answer these issues with data, rigor, transparency and a commitment to being straight with parents.

You have a choice:

Pass along the Mayor’s priorities with a few tweaks here and there. Or do what was promised last year by DCPS but which they have failed to. Set priorities and a CIP plan that is based on real data, real transparency and engagement, and real planning.

This Committee set that bar last year. Your budget is the law. You followed up with rigorous oversight. Asked the right questions. But if the administration can’t build what you provide funds for and they can’t meet the standard of budgeting and planning we had all agreed to, maybe you should start from scratch.