What’s Not Said: Hearings & Budgets

In the swirl of upcoming performance oversight hearings (see the list below and this site’s calendar) and council actions regarding our public schools, what’s notable is what’s not being said.

For one, the mayor has just requested for DCPS buildings a lot of reprogramming of money originally slated for other uses–to the tune of $54 million. The rejiggering makes sense on one level: to address facilities needs over the summer, in a blitz of attention on schools in every ward that need work, some of whose modernizations are years off.

OTOH, the mayor’s messaging of this makes it sound like she is new to office–an interesting twist, given that the advancing decrepitude she hopes to address quickly this summer didn’t all happen on someone else’s watch. Even the urgency doesn’t ring quite true. While there’s no doubt that all the work is needed and even critical, some of the projects–like the Drew playground–needed to be done a decade ago or more.

Thus, perhaps a good question for the council to ask is: how did we get to this point, such that the mayor is urgently pulling money for carefully curated (yet urgent!) capital projects on DCPS schools from every ward after those needs had been ignored, literally, for years running?

Except that the council may not actually ask that question–since all of this reprogramming will be “retained with comments” during a 14-day review period before it’s deemed approved on February 11.

Adding to the weirdness is that the $54 million the mayor wants to reprogram is coming not only from other schools, but in large part ($21 million) from funds originally destined for the renovation of the Ft. Dupont ice arena. Despite popular use of that venue, I had heard that there were plans to repurpose, not renovate, the arena’s footprint–which makes the gutting of its renovation funds for other uses logical, rather than a mere attempt to spread the wealth (or possibly exact revenge on a political rival, Vincent Gray, who was instrumental in getting the funds to renovate the arena). Indeed, in 2017 KIPP DC publicly outlined its plans (see here and here) to create a school in that area with ties to Nats Academy (which lies across a parking lot from the arena). That use would apparently violate the 2010 agreement that the National Park Service has with the city for the use of that land for recreation purposes. But given the deep pockets and reach of KIPP DC, that doesn’t mean the idea is going away for good.

Which leads to the next thing that isn’t mentioned at all in recent council actions: the master facilities plan (MFP). Oh, there’s a bit about the council reviewing it, which is nice. But as of now, no hearing–as required by law.

If no hearing is ever scheduled, it may be because what was messaged as the most recent incarnation of the MFP isn’t actually a plan at all, but a collection of data. (Not all of which we get to see.)

At this point, Thomas Byrd’s incredible statement during a recent broadcast of Education Town Hall really underscores where DC taxpayers stand:

That is, if we are going the private operator route in most or all of our public schools–as the MFP suggests may be the case given the growth of our charter sector (completely determined by private operators and the charter board without public input) and as our ESSA plan outlines (p. 35) regarding schools with repeated low test scores (again, without public input)–we need to have that conversation as a city, rather than as a fait accompli, or else we don’t really have public schools.

Perhaps the council will hear that message at these upcoming hearings (all of which are performance oversight hearings at our city hall, the Wilson Bldg., 1350 PA Ave. NW–unless otherwise noted):

January 30: Public roundtable for chancellor nominee Lewis Ferebee, 6 pm, Ron Brown high school, 4800 Meade St. NE
January 31: Public hearing on absenteeism and truancy, 10 am (government witnesses only, but submit written testimony by COB 1/29 if you want council to read it before the hearing–or submit written testimony by 2/14)
February 1: Public hearing on transparency in at risk funds, 9:30 am
February 6: Public roundtable for chancellor nominee Lewis Ferebee, 6 pm, Cardozo high school, 1200 Clifton St. NW
February 8: Department of Health (school nurses are under this agency), 10 am
February 12:
Department of Behavioral Health (school mental health counselors are under this agency), 10 am
State Board of Education, education ombudsman, student advocate, 11 am
Public roundtable for chancellor nominee Lewis Ferebee, 2 pm
February 15: Deputy mayor for education, public charter school board, 10 am
February 21: Office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE), 10 am
February 26: DCPS, 10 am
February 28: DGS (school buildings are under this agency), 10 am
March 6: Public roundtable on confirmation of OSSE head Hanseul Kang, 10 am

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