Let’s Talk Money! (Or Is It Power?)

Next Tuesday, November 14, starting at 6 pm, DCPS will hold a budget hearing/debate on next year’s school funding. The forum will be at Stuart-Hobson Middle School, 410 E Street NE, and sign-up is here (deadline to sign up is this Friday November 10 at 3 pm).

On the same day that this budget forum was announced on the DCPS website (October 30), the DC auditor released a report titled “Budgeting and Staffing at Eight DCPS Elementary Schools.”

In attempting to assess how well DCPS does with ensuring its schools adhere to its comprehensive staffing model (which seeks to ensure a basic parity and bottom line in staffing between all schools) and budgeting and use of funds (including at risk dollars), the auditor focused on elementary schools—and picked at random one DCPS elementary from each of the city’s eight wards.

That choice appeared to be the only random thing in her entire exercise.

That is:

What the auditor found was that while the comprehensive staffing model had ensured that the 8 elementaries had art and music teachers as well as librarians and other staff they needed (a refreshing change from as little as a decade ago), many far less desirable situations were common, including misuse of at risk funds; annual budget battles featuring heartbreaking tradeoffs (i.e., swapping a custodian for a reading teacher); sustained lack of resources for the most vulnerable students; technological shortcomings such that “students did not have enough time to practice using computers to do well on exams . . . [while] many students [lacked] access to computers and the internet at home”; and budgets that did not keep pace with inflation over years.

Contrast that current of human desperation and monetary need with this:

In December, a small subset of the cross sector task force—Hanseul Kang, state superintendent of education; Antwan Wilson, DCPS chancellor; Jennie Niles, deputy mayor for education; Scott Pearson, executive director of the charter board; and possibly one or two more task force members—will be traveling to Denver together for several days. The goal? To find out more about Denver’s school assessment and school planning—specifically, around opening and closing schools.

What is interesting to me, as someone who is funding this Denver junket, is the “why.”

That is, why physically go to this city, when we have all this Denver school information available, for months running, courtesy of research that the DME’s office has promulgated to the task force (and is, happily, available to you, too—well, if you just go through the slide decks at that link for the facilities working group from about April 2017 on)?

Moreover, do any of those four DC employees truly think that Denver—with a sprawling area many times larger than DC and with an elected school board with equal (and real!) power over charters and traditional schools—is analogous to DC?

And that a few days with officials there will do anything to change the fact that DC’s charter board will not alter its practices whatsoever in terms of approving, siting, and closing schools (i.e., it does whatever it wants, and the rest of us put up and pay up)?

Or is this trip simply to figure out how to close traditional schools and open charter schools faster–as this is something that Denver apparently excels at?

(Well, maybe not for the parents at the Denver Montessori school whose test scores were changed so it then became up for closure. And maybe not to the parents of kids at the many new Denver charter schools that are failing. Ah, well, there are bumps in every road—and the good people at national education reform organizations know this well with Denver, as they are flooding it with their private money to accelerate such change—including the money of our old friends at Democrats for Education Reform. You might recall their helpful push to have a test-heavy accountability rating for DC’s public schools. Nothing like gobs of dark cash to make one really embrace the public.)

Speaking of money (or is it power?):

Flush in defeat of their lawsuit against allegedly inequitable public funding, the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, Washington Latin, and Eagle Academy are appealing the ruling. In that decision, the judge determined that the lawsuit had no merit and that DC charter schools do in fact receive equitable funding.

But this appeal to me is pretty amazing, given the context here:

That is, while we have the same city publish a report about how a random subset of our by right elementary schools don’t have enough [fill in the blank: copier paper, computers, technology, staffing, support, blah blah blah] on a regular and sustained basis, this same city will have to defend itself once again from a lawsuit brought by well-heeled law firms with more money than I (and probably everyone living I am related to) will have in our entire lives put together over–wait for it–inequitable funding.

Sigh.

Turns out, the DCPS budget hearing next week will likely take place in the auditorium of Stuart-Hobson, which received a renovation not long ago and is facing continuing issues of water intrusion that have never been mitigated, despite this report from last year outlining the problems in gory detail.

(BTW, that report had to be wrested out of DGS by FOIA request. Get the feeling that maybe someone, somewhere, doesn’t want us to know how our schools are ignored?)

So, if you go to the DCPS budget forum, you might consider mentioning to the chancellor that in a city that cannot afford to buy adequate amounts of paper for the schools he oversees, traveling to Denver or ignoring longstanding facilities issues in that very room might not be the best use of our public money.

Well, if keeping our by right schools is a priority. (To be sure, our chancellor says he’s agnostic on that score.)

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