DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Vincent Morris, CHCS

Good morning Chairman Catania and other members of the Council. My name is Vincent Morris and I am the President of the PTA for Peabody Pre-K, Watkins Elementary and Stuart Hobson Middle School – the Cluster school.

I have three daughters: one each in 6th, 4th and 2nd grade and I, like many of the parents who are engaged in public education, feel very strongly that school reforms and improvements can’t come soon enough.

This is an urgent issue for us and we support taking bold action to improve the school system to benefit all students in all wards. By that, I mean less focus on test scores, more programs to keep families from skipping off to charter or private schools and a full embrace of the effort to modernize school boundaries so they are logical and build community.

I’m going to begin by giving everyone a quick overview of the Cluster and some of our top areas of concern.

For starters, when you think of the Cluster, you probably think of Capitol Hill.

That’s not wrong but today the Cluster is composed primarily of students who live in Wards 7 and 8 and 4 and 5. We attract students from all corners of the city because the program at our school is among the best and most exciting east of Rock Creek Park.

We have one outstanding principal – Dawn Clemens – in charge of 3 school buildings and more than 1,200 students. The helps align the campus vertically and thematically but also gives parents a level of certainty and familiarity for their children from age 3 to 13.

Because of that size, year to year fluctuations in funding can cause real problems at all grades. So we’ve asked in the past and will ask again this year for consistent funding for our operating budget.

We also feel pretty strongly that Kaya Henderson has not followed through across the board on commitments to give middle schools new investments and a path to excellence. At Hobson our FARM population is triple that of Deal, our students are overwhelmingly African American and we have more poor families than that school – yet we are constantly under the gun advocating for resources.

At Stuart, we consistently do more with less.

On a related note, as you know our middle school does not have a full size athletic field for students and athletes. We argued for the construction of an underground parking garage to maximize green space for the school and neighborhood – just like DCPS did for schools like Janney in Ward 3 and will do for Duke Ellington in Ward 2. Others will speak more about this but I will say to you Chairman Catania that I appreciate your willingness to wade into this issue in an attempt to come up with logical alternatives.

While we argue about finishing the renovation at Hobson, the children at Watkins attend school each day in a building that is one of the most run down in the whole city.

The bathrooms never smell right and sometimes stop working. This winter we had leaks in the roof and water dripped into a classroom. Some of our heating units went out and students were forced to wear jackets, while other parts of the school were like a sauna. And windows are in many places taped shut to keep out squirrels, pollen and the elements.  I won’t even get into the broader issues about the small spaces and dated layout.

It’s not logical for DCPS to push back the funding for Watkins by another year as the new budget for Fiscal Year 2015 proposes. If anything, the budget should be moved up and DCPS should take a good look at its facilities and programs and ask themselves why they’d impose a delay on Watkins and the 500 students and engaged parents there.

Finally, I want to say a word about the school nurse situation at Watkins. Unlike 90 percent of DC schools, we don’t have a full time nurse – which I’ve been told is because our students do not have as many chronic or profound health care issues or sicknesses as other schools.

By that logic, we could close ambulance service near Foggy Bottom because college students are healthy and close fire stations near Capitol Hill because everything is built with bricks and is less likely to catch fire.

In closing, I encourage the Council to work closely with the Chancellor on the budget during the next few months. I think DCPS has been spending money on the school system it wishes it was, rather than on the school system that it is. That needs to change.

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Testimony of

TESTIMONY OF VINCENT MORRIS,

PRESIDENT CAPITOL HILL CLUSTER SCHOOL PTA

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

Status

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Elizabeth Bacon, Watkins ES

Good morning. I’m Elizabeth Bacon, a parent at Watkins Elementary School. I serve on the Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA leadership and on the LSAT, and I’ve spent many hours investigating our school budget.

The Cluster School is a Pre-K3 through 8th grade school with 1,300 students at three campuses (Peabody Early Childhood, Watkins Elementary, and Stuart-Hobson Middle School) — with steady enrollment, strong test scores, healthy vertical integration, and students from all over the city.

Per Pupil Funding Minimum (PPFM) Allocation

Over the years, we’ve dealt with funding fluctuations because of enrollment changes and the budgeting premise that there should be a minimum “per pupil spend.” This year, we were fortunate — Watkins received a welcome extra lump sum of $379,000 in order to meet the per pupil funding minimum (PPFM) floor.

This extra funding was meaningful: it allows us to more adequately staff our school of more than 500 students. But because this extra funding is an accounting loophole in the staffing formula for large schools, we worry that we will not be able to count on it next year. What will happen if the DCPS staffing model changes, and the “floor” changes? That means we could again lose staffing: our instructional aides, our counselor and a technology coordinator.  DCPS would say that’s just the way the funding “floor” worked out. But there shouldn’t be so much variance from year to year in funding floors and staffing models. It makes it hard for schools to maintain continuity in programs and staff.

We are also concerned how this bump to reach the “floor” is going to many schools with fewer needs. For example, Deal Middle School received a $2 million lump sum to reach the floor — that’s an extra $1679 per student. What a boon a sum even half that size would have been for Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

 

Middle School Projected Enrollment FARM (SY 2013-14) Per student amount from the PPFF minimum “bump” in FY15 Level of studentperformance
Deal MS 1310 21% $1679 per student Reward
Stuart-Hobson MS 424 57% $0 per student Rising
Hardy 400 55% $0 per student Rising
Jefferson 307 99% $0 per student Reward
Eliot-Hine 275 99% $0 per student Rising

Of the 5 DCPS elementary schools receiving the PPFM in FY15, Watkins has by far the highest number of FARM-eligible students and the second to lowest per pupil funding minimum allocation. Of these 5 schools, Watkins is the only school on the list that is below “reward” in student performance, which is another indicator of need.

 

Elementary School Projected Enrollment FARM (SY 2013-14) PPFF minimum in FY15 Level of studentperformance
Lafayette ES 700 7% $883,418 Reward
Murch ES 680 9% $722,699 Reward
Janney ES 672 4% $864,355 Reward
Eaton ES 477 17% $131,565 Reward
Watkins ES 523 38% $379,176 Rising

At-risk Student Funding & Additional Investment

I followed with great interest the passage of the Fair Funding Act, the Adequacy Study commissioned by the Deputy Mayor of Education, the Chancellor’s top goal to improve middle schools, and the Chancellor’s direction to LSATs to plan for a 10% increase in funding.

Come budget time, I and my fellow education advocates were anticipating additional money to support our school, particularly our at-risk students and middle schools. But in the Cluster School budget, I saw:

  • No allocation to our school marked for at-risk kids and no specific data breakdown for our at-risk students population, according to the categories in the Fair Funding Act
  • No direction to our administration or LSAT to determine how to spend additional funds to really make an impact for the kids who need the most support
  • No sign of additional investment for our middle school beyond  $100,000 extra for “socio-emotional support” (As an aside, an example of real investment would be support specialized programs at each of the Ward 6 middle schools, as DCPS agreed to four years ago — in the Ward 6 Middle Schools Plan — but has yet not funded.)
  • The PWP Student Satisfaction allotment included in the top-line of the budget — which seemed somewhat disingenuous given that money was already spoken for and had came with many strings attached
  • No significant increase in overall funding, as the Chancellor had all but promised

Where exactly is the additional $44 million in support for at-risk kids? Is most of it going to the lowest 40 performing schools? To other “Chancellor’s initiatives”? To the PWP Student Satisfaction allocations?

Where is the explicit investment in our middle schools, as one of the top goals of this budget cycle? To extended day for some middle schools? To socio-emotional support?

Parents and the public deserve answers to these questions from DCPS in a transparent and upfront accounting.

Investment & Continuity

If we really believe in the potential of our public schools — and if we are committed to their success — we need investment and we need continuity in funding. We need investments in our programs and staff and continuity in those investments — not less-than-predictable fluctuations year to year. And we need investments in our fully utilized school buildings — especially not to be asked to wait another year for modern facilities at Watkins Elementary.

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Testimony of

Elizabeth Bacon

Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA and LSAT Representative 

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

Status

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Kevin White, Watkins ES

Good morning.  My name is Kevin White.  I will have a 4th grader and a 1st grader at Watkins next year.  Ms. Reese’s testimony has very clearly outlined many of the physical needs at Watkins.   There are many more, such as an original out of date elevator (out of operations for the last month), an exterior façade which doesn’t keep rain out of classrooms, an undersized kitchen that can’t efficiently serve our children lunch in the time available, and the complications around sharing space with a co-located DPR recreation center (when the school is already overcrowded).

I could go on, but my testimony today will focus on some global questions with respect to the funding proposals advanced in Mayor Gray’s 6-year CIP budget proposal.

Where is the unbiased planning and rational implementation for school modernizations?

Why does the Mayor propose re-opening Spingarn High School with a commitment of $31 million in FY15 when the school was just closed in 2013?    Why is opening another high school a budget priority when there are several newly renovated DCPS high schools which are under enrolled and under capacity? Why is Spingarn a priority over a fully-enrolled and over crowded elementary school?

Why does the Mayor prioritize additional capital improvements totaling $58 million for five elementary schools[i] that have already received enhanced phase 1 modernizations as recently as 2012 and 2013 when schools like Watkins[ii] do not meet current building code standards?  Sure, temporary buildings are not ideal, but they are in far better condition than the 52-year old Watkins building.  So why must Watkins continue to wait for initial stabilizing investments while others get multiple investments in less than three years?

The Mayor’s budget proposal invests nearly $17m for Goding over a 5-year period starting in FY15.  This eclipses the total proposed investment at Watkins over the same period and includes a second phase 1 modernization for Goding, which already received a phase 1 modernization in 2005 and additional improvements just last year.  It should also be noted that the Goding building isn’t even at 100% capacity.  What does this building really require in the near term that could possibly trump the substandard and unsafe conditions at Watkins that have yet to be addressed?

I urge the District government to begin making rational decisions about school modernization based on observable and quantifiable building conditions.

Let’s not confuse the feel-good nature of supporting again and again the sought-after schools with doing the right thing –

✓  correcting deplorable conditions of buildings in the worst shape prior to making supplementary investments at schools that have already been stabilized.

Let’s not confuse the desire to be responsive to well-coordinated, and sophisticated advocacy efforts with doing the right thing –

✓  responding to the well-documented needs of the most decrepit buildings first and in a deliberate, rational, and equitable manner.

Watkins can’t wait another 2 years for its phase 1 modernization.  Thank you for your consideration.

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[i]

School Enhanced Phase 1 Completed Proposed FY 15 Capital Improvement Program Addition
Hearst Elementary 2012 / 2013 $14,500,000 Yes
Mann Elementary 2012 / 2013 $5,500,000 Yes
Powell Elementary 2012 $9,909,000 Yes
Shepherd Elementary 2013 $8,167,000 Yes
Lafayette Elementary 2013 $20,341,000 Yes
  TOTAL $58,417,000  
Watkins Elementary Not applicable. $0 Needed, but unknown if DC Government will make the commitment

 

[ii] Murch and Garrison come to mind as other schools whose initial investments have been bumped back while other schools have enjoyed multiple years of supplemental investments.  However, Murch and Garrison appear to be set to be very well cared for in the next three years.  Murch is proposed to receive $40.3 million between FY15 – FY17.  Garrison is proposed to receive $38,000 between FY 15 – FY17.  During the same period, Watkins will receive just $14.2 million in capital investments.

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Testimony of

Kevin White

Parent at Watkins Elementary

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Bernetta Reese, Watkins ES

Good morning.  My name is Bernetta Reese and I am here to represent 540 students at Watkins Elementary.  I have 2 students in the first and third grade at the school. As a parent and representative of my school community, I want to say to you today that I am disappointed that Mayor Gray’s budget has pushed Watkins modernization back to Fiscal Year 2016 which means it has been moved back three times in the last four budget cycles.  Watkins can no longer wait for modernization.  Our school has many issues that need to be addressed.

 

In the 2008 DCPS Master Facility Plan for Watkins, 7 of the 10 major building systems as were marked as “Poor” or “Unsatisfactory.”  The school does not meet current building code standards and physical deficiencies are well-documented in the report.  The fire alarm system is non-compliant and the building does not have a sprinkler system.  This is especially concerning given that last year, there were two gas leaks at the school and the building had to be evacuated.  This is an urgent matter that affects the learning environment and safety of our children.

 

In addition, Watkins building temperature is such that students have had to wear winter coats with hoods depending on where they are in the building. During the week of DCCAS, air conditioning was needed but it was not available – making the learning and testing environment more difficult for our students.

 

The DCPS Education Specification for Watkins reveals that 85% of our classrooms are too small which means our school is overcrowded.  Our multipurpose room/cafeteria is less than half the size it should be for a combined use room.  Because of this, indoor recess is held in a 1200 square foot room converted from classroom space.  This space is just 36% of the size that it should be.

We appreciate the effort by this Committee last year to secure funding for new windows to be installed this summer.  But it’s not enough and Watkins cannot be ignored for another 2 years. We are in dire need for phase 1 of the modernization to begin to provide our children with a healthy and safer school.  Thank you for your time.

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Testimony of

Bernetta Reese

Parent at Watkins Elementary

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

DCPS Open Houses Kick Off this Month!

Curious about your neighborhood school? Check out the upcoming open houses. Mark your calendar now, but check back if the weather is particularly ‘iffy’ (as in 30 inches of snow…).

http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Learn+About+Schools/Open+Houses/Open+Houses