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.


Max Kieba Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Testimony for Max Kieba, Maury Elementary School

DC Council Committee on Education Budget Oversight Hearing

District of Columbia Public Schools

Thursday, 4/14/2016


Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Max Kieba, also known as Wyatt (Kindergarten) and Hadley’s (PreK-3) dad.   I’m a member of the PTA, serve as Maury’s School Improvement Team (SIT) Co-Chair and speaking on behalf of Maury’s LSAT.   I’m here to give perspective on the SIT process, modernization funding through the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), and operational budget issues as they relate to at-risk funding.

Proposed Maury funds in CIP

Maury is thankful that additional funds were proposed for our project, with a start of construction scheduled for summer 2017.  We can’t confidently say yet if we feel that is the right number as we’re still in the feasibility study review stage with DCPS and DGS, with a number of issues with the 2 scenarios presented to the SIT and 2 other scenarios that were done by the feasibility architect and submitted to DCPS that DCPS is not yet comfortable sharing for discussion.  At a minimum we hope the number proposed in this budget sticks, but it may possibly need to be more.   We also understand budgets are tight, so if that’s the best we can get, we’ll make it work.  We are committed to continue to work with DCPS and DGS to try to come up with a reasonable project that’s acceptable to all.

Confusion on available modernization funds

There continues to be confusion on the exact project numbers being proposed, total life cycle appropriation, and if/how prior spent and balance funds are calculated.  Maury’s example is below, but some clean-up of how budgets are presented in the future could help address a lot of issues people have with understanding the numbers.


Overall SIT Process

There are some improvements being seen in the overall SIT process, including the thought process of sequencing schools and managing swing space effectively, particularly some schools close to each other geographically.   For instance, while it hasn’t been decided if Maury will need to go to swing space and where, t it’s very likely Maury will need to swing with Eliot-Hine (E-H) seeming to be the logical choice.  If Watkins is done on time, it makes sense for Maury to swing to E-H and when Maury is done, modernize E-H.  Some could certainly argue E-H should move up and Maury delayed or at least swing somewhere else.  Maury being delayed further is not a popular or even practical choice without more help addressing space issues such as bring additional trailers on site to an already tight footprint.    Such discussions would need to be done properly with the community, but if it ends up being a choice of waiting with some additional trailers and swinging to E-H vs. Maury staying on schedule but swinging somewhere else further away with more transportation issues into the equation, the pros/cons get more interesting.

Modernization fund big picture 

Looking at the big picture, it’s great we have more modernization funds this year but the numbers and timing are all over the map.  Some schools got a bunch of funds, some a little (or not at all) and some in between.  It’s good we’re throwing money at the problem, but are we addressing the problem appropriately, in a fair, equitable, transparent, etc. way?  And are the numbers the right ones, particularly for many schools that haven’t even started a SIT or even completed feasibility study

Individual school snubs

This committee came up with a great idea last year of at least providing some seed funds for schools to start the SIT process even if we didn’t have funds to start construction right away.  Unfortunately, those SIT processes started way too late or didn’t happen at all.  It was great they finally got the SIT process going for E-H, but was disappointed to see that Jefferson never got theirs and now has that $1.5M taken away or at least pushed off further down the road.  Other schools like Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML) keep getting pushed off but in desperate need to happen.  If we can’t move up CHML completed, can we at least figure out a way to get some seed funds to start a SIT?  The excuse we’ve heard from DCPS and even DME Niles is we just don’t have the funds to do the project now.    Per DCPS’s own SIT guidelines, the feasibility study/design phase takes a good 12-18 months before construction.  Also, budgets shouldn’t even come into play that early.  I thought the intent of the feasibility study is to get input on the needs of the community and develop some high level blocking of resources given the ed spec and school’s overall footprint.   Budgets should not really come into play until further down the road.

Funding for at-risk students

Our LSAT has discussed the large drop-off in “Title” funding that happens when a school loses Title I eligibility and the challenges this creates in meeting the needs of the remaining at-risk students.

A DCPS school is eligible for a Title I Schoolwide Program if 40% or more of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, or a Title I Targeted Assistance Program if between 35-40% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Schools with less than 35% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch are considered Non-Title I. Non-Title I schools receive Title II, Part A funding which is used to support professional development for teachers and principals.

Since Title I is implemented as a threshold program, there is a large reduction in Title funding when a school dips below the 35% threshold. For example, another Ward 6 school with a similar total enrollment has a Title allocation of $166,000 (primarily from Title I) for FY17, while Maury has a Title allocation of only $9,600 (from Title II).

Even though Maury is no longer a Title I school, we still had 38% of students who were classified as economically disadvantaged in the PARCC testing grades 3 through 5 last year. These students still have needs, but we don’t get Title I resources to help address their individual needs.

Maury’s Title allocation + “at-risk payment” line item works out to only $171 per at-risk student. For the other Ward 6 school mentioned before, the Title allocation + at-risk payment line item provides $1,031 per at-risk student. Certainly schools with higher at-risk populations should get more funding overall, however non-Title I schools like Maury are getting substantially less for each individual at-risk student. This makes it more difficult to provide targeted interventions like after-school programs or coaching for math and reading. The individual kids are still at-risk, even if the school as a whole has passed below a percentage threshold.

It would be helpful if the Title I funds could follow the individual students and be provided on a more equitable per student basis. Alternatively, the “at-risk payment” line item of the DCPS school funding model could be used to provide more equitable levels of funding for every economically disadvantaged student.

A comparison of Maury and Miner is below.  This is not intended to try to compete with or complain about another school in our feeder pattern.    If anything, Miner is doing great and should continue to get any funding it can to improve an already great community.  If anything though, it might make sense for schools to be more consistent with one another, particularly within a given feeder.  Wouldn’t it be great if we somehow figured this out on a feeder pattern by feeder pattern basis, maybe get Maury, Miner and Payne, and even E-H and Eastern all together in a discussion with DCPS to talk about per at-risk student funding so regardless of where they start in the feeder, students get the help they need and hopefully get consistent funding as they stay within the feeder.  In general too at-risk funds should supplement, not replace other funding mechanisms.  This is now just an issue at these schools, but Eastern as well.


Calculations, Based on FY17 initial budget allocations

Maury ES proj. enrollment = 400, 14% at-risk or 56 students.

Title funding = $9,575.

At-risk payment line item = $0

($9,575 + $0)/56 = $171 per at-risk student


Miner ES proj. enrollment = 398, 70% at-risk or 279 students.

Title funding = $165,830.

At-risk payment line item = $121,928

($165,830 + $121,928)/279 = $1,031 per at-risk student


Danica Petroshius Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Hearing – April 14 2016



April 14, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am Danica Petroshius, a Ward 6 resident and a parent of two at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan. Our school is PK through 6th in one building and a middle school in a trailer, and our families come from every Ward. We love this school – the teachers, the principal, the parent community and the Montessori approach.

But once you look beyond the school community, we don’t like what we see. We see a city that has punted our modernization from 2014 to 2017 to 2019 – and now indefinitely. We see a city that cannot provide accurate, full data about our school. We see a city willing to leave schools untouched for too many years.

Enough is enough. We have been told by a few senior members of the government that there is a chance of retribution from the system when parents speak out. That’s wrong. Fear is no way to run a city. We look all our city leaders in the eye and say: hear us and work with us. We have an opportunity now to change the dialogue from one of fear and behind-closed-doors decision-making to one of transparency, accurate data and full investment.

Chairman Grosso, we applaud your call last year to bring a data-driven approach to modernization. We were thrilled to hear that the Mayor would have a transparent modernization process and use data to make the decisions. On approach, we are all aligned.

But the approach breaks down when you look at process and data. There is no record of the data collection used for the building assessments. If it was DGS data, their data shows that our school has never been assessed. It was suggested to us that the Mayor got her own data instead by touring schools. But we’ve never seen that data and we have no idea if it’s accurate. Were modernization experts with her? Were principals who know their buildings best asked to help identify the school’s needs? Was our school included?

In addition, DGS found lead in our water last year without notifying us. We found out from a blog article. Now, DGS cannot provide the data showing that our school is 100% remediated of lead. Whether it’s the building or lead in the water, if we can’t get comprehensive and accurate data, then the entire process fails.

The approach further breaks down when even the metrics to rank schools are faulty and inconsistent. For example, our middle school did not receive a priority like other middle schools. But in deciding our capacity rating, it appears our trailer that houses the middle school was counted which means that they do know that we are a middle school. Some have argued that we are an education campus not a middle school. This bureaucratic distinction between an education campus and a middle school doesn’t change the fact that we have kids who are in middle school in a separate trailer. Do you want to tell our 7th and 8th graders that they are not in middle school?

We’ve given you the charts that show the data is faulty and missing. The process and data systems used to create this proposed modernization plan are broken.

Finally, the system fails on investment. Parents and many on council fought hard to take us from cuts in school modernization last year to increases this year. But it’s not yet a job well done. We can find money for every school and modernize them over the next 5 years. No one believes we have an economic crisis in DC. We are leading other cities in economic growth at 3-4% a year. We have a cash reserve of over $700 million. You can’t throw a stone in this city without hitting a crane that is building more condominiums and more restaurants. And we now are spending $50 million on a practice stadium for a professional basketball team whose owner is worth billions. The city should reprioritize and fund the must-have’s–safe strong schools –first. Only then should they fund the “nice-to-have’s.”

Today, I ask each Councilmember to stand with us and stop the budget process from moving forward until three tests are met:

  1. There is full, accurate and fully transparent data for every school.
  2. The metrics for ranking school modernization include that data and priorities are applied consistently across every school.
  3. There is funding over the next 5 years to fund every school’s modernization needs.

We have attached a letter from over 230 parents in our school calling for a better solution. We welcome parents from other schools to join us. We welcome the ability to work with the Council and city agencies on a solution. The city has set very high learning standards for our children – standards that we as parents help our kids and teachers meet every day. It’s time for the city leadership to set their standards high too.

Thank you.