Iris Bond Gill Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Testimony of Iris Bond Gill

Council of the District of Columbia

Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to testify at this Joint Budget Oversight Hearing.

Like so many parents in this city, I have children in both a DCPS and a charter school. I applaud the steps the Deputy Mayor for Education’s Office has taken to make the transitions between the charter and DCPS sector easier for families through the MySchoolDC process.

But even as families move between sectors in an integrated way, the system has not caught up. It continues to be siloed and that’s not at all how most families experience education in DC. ​It begs the question: Who are you designing the system for if not for our families who use it?

So the difference between the user experience and the system structure is deep and it’s widening. And parents are starting to ask: who oversees planning across our entire education system. I’ve been told this is within the wheelhouse of the DME, which is what brings me here today.

If we are to design a system that works for the people using it, we need someone​at the helm who understands​how families operate within our system and who ​has the authority​to plan and make decisions for the whole system. We don’t have a systems approach now and…

  • It’s perpetuating a false and outdated narrative.
  • It’s disproportionately impacting our most vulnerable children.
  • And it’s wasting city resources. All of this is resulting in a system that is increasingly unstable and inequitable.

So let’s talk about this outdated narrative​.In the first 10 years of this movement, the charter sector was a “hub of innovation”. With only 5-10% of students in those schools, changes in the sector had little impact on the whole system. And at that time, the strategy was about school improvement for the majority of schools.

But the context has changed. Yet our conversation policies and planning have not.

So here we are in 2019, we have over 200 schools for 90K students with numerous options. The charter sector serves 47% of students and is no longer operating an off-to-the-side hub of innovation. And every decision—every opening, every closing, every new school location— in one sector impacts the entire education system. For example, opening new STEM-focused middle school next to an existing middle school with a STEM focus only serves to pull enrollment and resources away from students. And without a systems approach to planning, these decisions are creating massive instability.​

Essentially, DC is operating blindly and accelerating waste, instability, and inequity.

The brunt of our instability is not evenly distributed. Our children who experience the least stability at home, experience the least stability in our education system.​And it’s been designed that way or at least it’s evolved that way. And research has documented that students who attend schools that close do not end up at higher performing schools. I know a family who has been in not one, not two, but three schools that have closed on them. On top of this, the city makes it so those in the least resourced parts of our city travel the furthest to school, it strands families with school closures after lottery dates. And contributes to a volatile budgeting strategy where schools are left without adequate resources, investments, and supports.

Here are a few things we need city leaders to do:

  • Clarify to the public who is responsible for planning across the entire system so we know who to hold accountable.
  • Create a transparent needs assessment process for the entire system rather than the siloed decision-making of today. It should robust community engagement so decisions are made efficiently and in the best interest of the families.
  • Develop in a robust school improvement strategy so we increase the quality of our schools.​It must ensure the highest investments are aligned to the highest needs and that schools can rely on receiving the funding needed to maintain core staffing, year to year.
  • Charge city leaders for coming up with creative solutions for building and stabilizing enrollment. Rather than opening a new school to operate as an early college high school, why not open an early college high school program within an under-enrolled but renovated DC high school? Creative solutions that engage communities will use funding more efficiently and build enrollment and stability.

Families are shouldering the burden that city leadership is not. We are working to improve schools, to stabilize enrollment, secure investment, and find stability. We need the city to move the conversation and policies to match the 2019 reality and begin to act as ONE system with two sectors (which is how families experience it) instead of operating as two separate systems. People don’t agree on everything, but across the city, we are united on the need for high quality schools and stability, transparency, and efficiency across education in DC.

Suzanne Wells Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Testimony of Suzanne Wells

Committee of the Whole and Education’s Budget Oversight hearing of the Deputy Mayor for Education

April 25, 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.

Many changes in the governance of the district’s public schools in the last twenty years have taken away democratic control of our public schools.  From the School Reform Act of 1995 that created the independent Public Charter School Board (PCSB) to the Public Education Reform Amendment Act that shifted control of the public schools from an elected school board to the mayor, each of these acts have in different ways reduced the influence citizens and our local government have over the public schools.

My comments today focus on the School Reform Act. In 1995, Congress passed the School Reform Act that created the PCSB as an independent body with authority to open and close charter schools that does not report to the mayor, and is not required to plan or coordinate with DCPS.

Less than a year ago, Mayor Bowser spoke at a news conference about efforts to protect the District of Columbia’s local laws, and she said “We want Congress to keep their hands off the things that matter to our residents.”   At the time, Mayor Bowser was talking about efforts to halt the district’s commercialization of recreational marijuana sales and prevent funding abortion services for low-income women.

There is probably no issue that matters more to the residents of the District of Columbia than education.  Last year, the district spent almost 20% of its tax dollars on education related expenses.  There is arguably no issue in the district that has been influenced more by Congress than education. For unexplained reasons, the Mayor has treated congressional control of our public schools differently than other local issues.

Since 1995, the charter school sector in DC has grown from 0% to 47% of the public school students in DC now attending public charter schools.  Because the PCSB is an independent body, there has been no planning on the opening and closing of schools managed by DCPS and the PCSB.

This lack of planning has resulted in the district taxpayers being burdened with tremendous inefficiencies in the use of tax dollars put towards education.  We have seen charter schools open close to DCPS schools running similar programs, an explosion of high schools (34 at last count) with almost a third of them having under 300 students, and a steady decline of enrollment at many by-right schools.  We have invested hundreds of millions in renovating our by-right schools, yet many of them are not able to invest in programming because of declining budgets due to under enrollment.

There is no position better suited to begin discussions with Congress about returning authority for managing the charter sector back to the District of Columbia than the Deputy Mayor for Education.  The DME is the person responsible for developing and implementing the Mayor’s vision for academic excellence and creating a high quality education continuum.  With responsibility for only half of the students attending public schools in DC, it is impossible for our city to effectively deliver academic excellence to all students. It’s past time to engage with Congress to seek changes to the School Reform Act, and return control over all public education in the district back to our local government.

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Testimony of Sandra Moscoso 

Committee of the Whole and Education’s Budget Oversight hearing of the Deputy Mayor for Education

April 25, 2019

Good morning Chairmen and Councilmembers. I am Sandra Moscoso, a parent of students enrolled in Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, and School Without Walls and formerly, BASIS DC.

I am also secretary of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.

In preparation for this testimony, I wanted to understand the DME’s priorities.

I couldn’t find any statement of priorities on the DME website. The best I could do are four bullets from a tweet by the DC State Board of Education from it’s March 6, 2019 meeting, where Mr. Kihn was a guest. Because the state board complies with the open meetings act, I could watch a partial recording of the meeting on periscope (though it did not include DME Kihn’s opening remarks). Anyway, the priorities are:

  • Early childhood
  • Mental Health
  • Human capital
  • Post-secondary career readiness

All worthwhile priorities and presumably they are applicable to all publicly funded schools. I want to be able to support the DME in meeting these, so I put on my project manager hat and thought about what it might take to get to success.

First and foremost, in order to assess the key issues around each priority, the DME will need data from schools and LEAs. Then, in order to articulate the issues around each priority, the DME will need to communicate that data to families and educators in a way that we can provide input and ideas into goals. When families and front-line educators are engaged in a way that is transparent, it’s much more likely that we will understand priorities and support the work. Once plans are under implementation, DME will need to access data to monitor progress against targets and communicate with families and to Council on how it’s going. Easy, right?

Well, along the way, the DME may discover issues that can impact priorities, like for example, lead in school facilities, which can have grave impact on early childhood development. The DME and the public need schools and LEAs to share how our students are kept safe from environmental hazards. If the data isn’t regularly published, this data should be subject to FOIA.

All of the above to say that success with any initiative will require transparency from all schools and LEAs, as well as from the Deputy Mayor of Education, DC Public Schools, DC Public Charter School Board, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Parents and students must know that they are safe and supported. There are two school transparency acts, both with worthwhile elements, in particular FOIA compliance for all schools. We urge DME to support transparency across all schools (and of course, we ask Council to do so as well).

Thank you for your time.

Heather Schoell Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Testimony of Heather Schoell,

Eastern Parent of Two/PTO Treasurer/LSAT Parent Rep

DME Budget Oversight Hearing

April 25, 2019

Each mayor and chancellor have asked for parent input, but what we say hasn’t seemed to help inform the overarching system. We have dilapidated and opulent schools, each year we have a per-pupil-based budget that isn’t enough to fill the most basic of teacher positions, and then we open additional schools that further dilute resources when there are empty seats in existing schools. It costs a lot to work ad hoc.

There’s no excuse for having children come out of elementary school still unable to read, weakening the academics of middle and high schools, and pretty much cementing a difficult path for their future. Let’s fix this.

Children who have lived through trauma, or who live it every day, are not set up for success by a budget that asks a principal to choose between a social worker and a music teacher or a psychologist and a science teacher. There’s no money for coaches or art projects. The reality is that this is what’s happening in the 1 and 2 star schools. These schools have the highest at-risk population, kids who require the most intervention academically, socially, and emotionally, and not enough in the budget to right-size their mental health providers. These schools aren’t raising $100k to make up for budget shortfalls, but these kids shouldn’t be less prepared because of it. (This, by the way, is why we have an achievement gap. People of means don’t go to the poor school with no soccer coach, taking their resources with them. Those resources buy influence and computers, which in turn allow students to be more proficient in online test-taking, which impacts star ratings, which attracts other parents of means, and around we go.) Something like 75% of people in prison have a mental condition – ADHD, for example. Can you imagine how different this city could be if our students received early intervention? By not labeling little boys

as bad or disruptive, but maybe have ADD or dysgraphia, we could help stop the pipeline to prison. Right-size mental health and equalize budgets.

Why can’t we further leverage District agencies’ expertise and come up with a way to incorporate them into schools? We have DBH for social/emotional services, DCPL to get the right books in school libraries, and DPR that could provide coaches for after-school sports. I applaud DCIAA for working with Providence Hospital last summer to provide student physicals, eliminating a barrier for students who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten clearance to play sports, which is tragic as sports are the only thing that get some kids to school. Let’s build on this efficiency and see how else we can work smart. If it’s a funding issue, then let’s figure it out.

With so many special ed students, we could create a launch pad, year 13, in the likeness of Melwood, which provides employment, job and life skills training, and support services to people of differing abilities – another opportunity for a partnership.

With all the compassion and intelligence at work here, we should be able to come up with clever ways to turn out students who are well prepared for life, for a healthier, more prosperous DC. Thank you.

Danica Petroshius Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Testimony of Danica Petroshius

DME Budget Oversight Hearing

April 25, 2019

Thank you for holding this hearing and providing us the opportunity to testify. I am Danica Petroshius, a parent of two DCPS students, a member of our LSAT and PTSO, as well as Co-Vice President of the Ward 6 Public School Parents Organization.

Parents – as Chairman Mendelson said yesterday – are investing in, and I would add entrusting, our children to schools. What parents want as the consumers of our education system are very concrete things: stability, quality, equity, transparency and programmatic diversity. And we believe to achieve that it takes two key things: significant investment and a strong system manager.

The challenge we face now is that we have a system that was designed around reform ideas and not around the interests of parents and students. It has evolved into a system that is fractured, siloed, underinvested and inefficient. And no one is at the helm driving system-wide planning, collaboration, investment and efficiency.

Let me give some clear examples of the continued instability, inequity and lack of transparency that parents feel front and center every time they enter a school or enter the lottery:

  • We have an unstable budget system which you all outlined very articulately yesterday that leaves parents who are investing in schools wondering why the system won’t invest at the same relative rate.
  • Our unstable budget system is not backed with a laser focus on school improvement. As both Chairman Mendelson and Chairman Grosso alluded to yesterday – stabilization funds aren’t magic beans – they should be backed with concrete strong school improvement strategies and supports that help struggling schools improve and grow enrollment. We have students in those schools now – they deserve our highest attention and effort. And if we give it, enrollment will grow. We do not systematically do that now.
  • Instead we open and close across our system – with no system-wide planning. DCPS is opening Bard High School while we have 40 high schools across the city already, some under enrolled, and 20,000 seats across our system that remain open. And just Monday the PCSB heard testimony from 10 new charter applicants, some high schools. I have no knowledge of any individual school’s worth or not. But what I do know is that there is no one at the helm with authority across our entire system saying: wait. Where are we building new schools, and why. Is there a true system needs assessment that shows that there is a unique need for a new school and deep community engagement that says it will grow and be successful? We have parents enrolling in schools one year to find out that they are closing the next. All of this means that our system is – by design – creating inefficiencies with public tax dollars – opening schools next to each other, leaving other areas as school deserts.
  • We have a system that is inequitable and inefficient at its core. Where some schools in part of our system are able to fundraise for private foundation or corporate dollars and others are not. Where some school parent groups are able to raise a lot of funds and others are not. This deepens inequity and instability.
  • We have a system where only some schools are held to a high standard of transparency. As parents, we are laser focused on our school and its community – wherever that school is in our system. And we are scared when we might choose a school that is not held to open meeting and FOIA standards of transparency. We trust our schools and are strong partners with them – but if there is not transparency, there is not trust. And we must know that when the school fails – or seems to fail in some way whether in services, sexual assault, or other issues – that we as parents can find out the truth and advocate for our child. Right now, only half of our students have that right.
  • We have a system that does not coordinate its facilities, enrollment and opening/closing of schools planning and projections across the system. We have a Master Facilities Plan that only looks at part of our system. This leads to incredible inefficiency and runaway proliferation of schools without any care for budget, need, community and accurate enrollment projections.

These are critical elements of our unstable system – but they can be fixed. We have an opportunity to strengthen and stabilize our system to ensure greater and deeper investment in our schools by parents and more success for all of our students. Here are some key actions Council can take to drive a stronger system – many that would require new or stronger action by the Deputy Mayor of Education in some way:

  • Stabilize school budgets and invest in school improvement. We need to ensure an adequate budget and that the administration follow the law on all aspect of school funding including stabilization and at-risk. We must also ensure that no school has to make cuts but instead we invest in school improvement.
  • Ensure that the entire system is held to high standards of transparency relating to budget, open meetings and FOIA.
  • Provide seed funding for the DC Education Research Practice Partnership at $2 million and ensure its high-quality implementation to provide further support for strong school improvement across our entire system.
  • Require a system-wide master facility plan and new process that looks at all of our schools, improves enrollment projection accuracy, and has a strict and keen eye to improving quality, health and safety of our current schools and improving the DGS systems for building and maintaining quality school buildings.
  • Make efficiency and school improvement a priority in school planning by requiring a new authority and process for system-wide planning for opening and improving schools. It must be grounded in deep needs assessments for what the system needs are, accurate enrollment projections, programmatic offerings and where schools already are or are not. It must also be grounded in deep community engagement and complete transparency.

If we can do this, parents will be more excited than every about our schools – no matter what school their child attends. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Mark Simon Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Testimony of Mark Simon, April 25, 2019

Budget Oversight Hearing – Deputy Mayor for Education

My name is Mark Simon, Ward 1 resident, former DCPS parent, a life-long educator and now an education policy associate with the Economic Policy Institute.

I have come today to praise our new DME for his respectful and energetic outreach to our community but also to question how the DME’s role has been defined by him, by the DC Council, and by the Mayor.

DME Kihn has made it his business to meet repeatedly with hundreds of our city’s most knowledgeable parent, community, and educator advocates so that he seems to really understand and to have internalized the issues and the history. He’s a listener and quick study.  But I’m not convinced that he or this mayor define the DME’s role to include oversight of both sectors, which is a huge mistake.

To assert that the mayor, the DC Council and the DME have no authority over the charter sector is to give up on the idea that our city’s schools need a long-range plan – with goals for the number of schools in each sector, DCPS feeder patterns parents can rely on, equitable offerings in every Ward, research on how we’re doing and whether replicable strategies are working.  Treating half our schools like small businesses over which the city has little authority relinquishes normal authority this Council and this Mayor actually have over public schools.  It’s what makes them public.  I want to ask members of the DC Council – what is the DME’s job description?

What’s the DME’s role in developing and implementing an overall education plan for our city?  Is the Chancellor accountable to him?  The OSSE State Superintendent?  Does he have authority over the charter sector LEAs?  And if not, why not?  We’ve been told that DME Kihn is going to have the entire Department of Employment Services and the Workforce Investment Council shifted to be under the DME’s supervision. These agencies have only the most indirect connection to education. Is the mayor adding to his portfolio because she is diminishing the DME’s authority over charter schools? Is he being told to stay away from the charter sector? These changes have had no hearing, no debate.  If these changes are happening, the Council needs to weigh-in. It’s just not right.

Home rule and forty years of history clearly give the DC Council authority over all the schools.  My suggestion to you, members of the DC Council, is to develop, in concert with the mayor, a job description for the DME.

We need an overall plan for our schools.  We have far too many schools. We have 34 high schools, more than Montgomery County but they have more than twice as many students.  The charter board is currently considering applications for opening 11 more charter schools, and they’ll locate wherever they choose. That’s crazy.  The intention of the Charter Board is clearly to continue to expand without consideration of the overall number of schools in the city or the corollary effect on neighboring DCPS schools. Each time a charter school opens, it costs the council approximately $3,300 per pupil more than if those were DCPS seats.  Does it make sense for the DME to have nothing to say over half the schools in the city, and the number of schools overall?  If that is the mayor’s position, then we will never have an overall plan for education in DC, taxpayers will have their tax dollars wasted in ways unimaginable in the other 49 states, and the DC Council will have stood by and just let it happen.

So I implore you, write a job description for the DME.  Require that an overall education plan be developed for our city.  Ensure transparency for every school in both sectors.  And protect and improve our matter-of-right neighborhood schools, before its too late.

Tanja Speckmann (Ward 2) 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

I would like to thank the committee for listening to us today. I have been in front of the committee many times before and I do have the feeling we have found an open dialogue and a lot of support for our school needs. I am very lucky to be a parent at this wonderful school and with my son just starting his time at CHM@L I hope my input has a lasting effect on the school.

We as members of the SIT group want to work with DCPS and DGS to build the comprehensive elementary and middle school campus that allows our unique Montessori citywide school to thrive.
We have put a lot of time and effort into describing our specific needs not just to the committee but DCPS and DGS as well. And while we have gotten support on some issues DCPS and DGS unfortunately keeps putting up obstacles to issues that would allow this process to succeed.

Strict Adherence to an Elementary Ed Spec – Even though We also have a middle school. We are starting from a deficit because there is no ed spec for an education campus or a Montessori school. There’s only an elementary Ed Spec and a middle school ed Spec. Before the feasibility process started over a year and a half ago, DCPS and DGS dictated that our school would be built on the elementary ed spec – we have challenged this direction in every meeting. What this means that many of the assets that middle schoolers get have been summarily shut down by DCPS with an answer of “well it’s not in the elementary ed spec”. For example, every middle school has an auditorium and a full-size gym – and many other provisions tailored to middle school students. We are just asking for a few of the middle school assets – the auditorium and full-sized sports gym, but even these simple asks won’t even be considered.

We understand that we will not have a full middle school but we should have some of the learning assets of other middle schools – it’s the only right way to build a true education campus.

We have an unusually small plot of land for the age range and size of school we serve. CHML serves students 3 to 14 years old and our small plot of land included historic and federal property. As you can see from the chart below, when a school serves more grades, there is more square footage except for CHML. CHML has less square footage overall and less per kid square footage than other Ward 6 schools serving PreK-3 through 5th, yet will serve an entire middle school that those schools won’t serve. In addition, CHML has significantly less square footage and per kid square footage than the other Ward 6 education campus school. CHML’s square footage is most comparable to a stand-alone middle school serving grades 6-8 only.

School Gross Square Feet/Acreage Enrollment Grades Per kid square footage
CHML 115,674/2.66 495 (of new building) Pre-K3 through 8th 233.68
Ludlow-Taylor 129,349/2.97 414 Pre-K3 through 5th 312.44
JO Wilson 149,727/3.44 509 Pre-K3 through 5th 294.16
Stuart Hobson 87,528/2 422 6th to 8th 207.41
Peabody 34,998/.8 227 Prek3-K 154.18
Walker-Jones 147,512/3.39 435 Pre-K3 through 8th 339.11

We are a citywide school that serves students from every Ward. See the attached scatterplot that shows where our students reside. Some parents drive 30 to 40 minutes to get here, some Metro over an hour and 15 minutes to get here. We must consider all solutions to ensure this school continues to welcome all families – which includes looking at the feasibility of underground parking. DCPS and DGS have not even allowed the study of this feasibility.

We need adequate outdoor play and learning spaces. We also need adequate outdoor play recreation sports and learning spaces both to accommodate a Montessori experience as well as make sure the physical activity and extracurricular opportunities for our students are available to them and we have to do this with a wide range of ages from three years old to 14 years old in mind.

All of this is to say that while we have made some progress in the SIT – DGS and DCPS heard our ask to hire architects with Montessori experience and we appreciate that very much. They are working with teachers and our principal to make sure the flow of the space and classrooms accommodate a Montessori education in a DCPS environment. But those architects are limited by the DCPS DGS directives to not look beyond the elementary ed spec.

We lost a lot of time during the feasibility process. We have 4 architects on our SIT team all pushing for time and moving the design forward faster – without success. Now we are strapped for time with the design architect group. DCPS and DGS did not allow the feasibility study to look at full-size auditorium, a full-size gym or whether underground parking could help alleviate some of the pressures on a small plot of land for learning and play space. It did not look at how to ensure that this citywide school remains welcoming to all and does not by default create a neighborhood school because parents who travel far – 43% of our students live in Wards 7 and 8 for example – because the city has created too many barriers to adequate transportation that they don’t feel welcomed.

We have a Montessori mission that includes a whole child mission and we have to meet all DCPS requirements on top of it. We have not been allowed to have a real conversation with DCPS about how to creatively solve for these challenges. Instead we are constantly told that our asks just don’t fit with the elementary ed spec or doesn’t fit with precedent. The fact is we wouldn’t have our school is they relied on precedent. Before us there was no other stand-along citywide school and no other Montessori DPCS school. In addition, the precedent argument is an excuse not to look at creative solutions and innovations to meet specific needs. We are unique and deserve a chance for a real conversation about that.

So I ask you today to direct DCPS and DGS look at creative solutions for adopting some -not all – of the middle school assets like a full-sized gym and an auditorium and an additional $4 million to the budget to allow us to accommodate the resulting creative solutions that might arise including underground parking that might solve our need for additional building space, additional green and outdoor space, and our citywide community needs, that is so difficult to accommodate on our small plot of land. Thank you.