Budget Oversight Time (>4000 New School Seats Edition)

Once again, it’s almost spring and that means money–or rather, the money that our public schools need and are not getting. Below is a list of budget hearings for DC’s various education agencies before our city council. Sign up and more information are available here. All hearings are at our city hall, the Wilson Bldg., at 1350 PA Ave. NW.

[NOTE from 3/15: Here is an excellent DCPS budget tool designed by local education advocacy group C4DC.]

Wednesday March 27, 11 am: Budget oversight hearing, state board of education; ombudsman for public education; office of the student advocate

Friday March 29, 10 am: Budget oversight hearing, DCPS (public witnesses)

Thursday April 4, 10 am: Budget oversight hearing, public charter school board

Tuesday April 9, 10 am: Budget oversight hearing, office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE)

Wednesday April 24, 10 am: Budget oversight hearing, DCPS (government witnesses only)

Thursday April 25: Budget oversight hearing, Deputy Mayor for Education

Here are some budget source documents, from DCPS and from the council.

On the money front, the good news right now is that some excessed DCPS teachers have gotten back pay.

The bad news . . . ah, where to start?

With only about 72 hours to review new budgets (which are made from scratch every single year–let that sink in), DCPS school staff (and the parents helping them in this on LSATs) have appeared to absorb the sobering news that their schools will for the most part be losing staff because the costs of those staff are (as budget guru Mary Levy has noted) rising more than increases in the budgets, while covering security costs has been moved into DCPS school budgets, when it had not been before.

(Gotta pay for Bard somehow, I guess.)

In addition, several DCPS high schools of right are looking at what are effective cuts of at least $1 million, including Woodson, Anacostia, and Ballou. (Quoting from a twitter feed with an analysis done by a teacher: “Estimated loss in ability to pay for “discretionary” costs (i.e., staffing) for: @hdwoodsonshs: $1,075,496 @AnacostiaHigh: $ 1,322,363 @balloudc: $ 1,425,941.00 Coolidge & Wilson also effectively lose money by this calculation, but not nearly as much.”)

Lest I leave charter schools out while DCPS schools are effectively bleeding to death budget-wise:

In the next month, our charter board is gearing up to consider 10 (yes, you got that right–TEN) new charter schools, for a total of more than 4000 new seats and about $13 million *more* in annual facilities allocations. See here and here for more information.

(Remember: other jurisdictions actually worry about the budget impact of such charter proliferation. But we here in DC don’t because we have, uh, special budgets with, uh, special money–while our 20,000 currently unfilled seats don’t count or something something cough cough choice argle bargle. Enjoy the school “competition” where you win–AND lose!)

To summarize the problems in DCPS’s budgets this year, I have put below researcher Betsy Wolf’s excellent analysis, which she has kindly allowed me to reprint below from her twitter thread here:

“About this time last year, DCPS unexpectedly cut several staff from our school budget, and I started my Twitter side-job in creating graphs showing how inequitable school funding in this city is.

“This journey connected me to parent and community leaders who have been walking this road much longer than me. I’ve learned a TON about just how deep the rabbit hole is. Here’s what I’ve learned.

“1. Over time, DCPS has shifted costs to the school level, so while it may look like budgets increase, you have to account for shifting costs. Some examples include social workers and psychologists, JROTC instructors, background checks, and most recently, school security funds.

“2. DCPS requires schools to use the average salary (including benefits) for a given position, and the cost of each position increases annually. This is another example of why a budget “increase” may not actually be an increase in purchasing power.

“Mary Levy estimated 48% of the budget “increase” in FY20 is eaten up by annual increases in cost of positions, 37% of the “increase” covers security costs pushed to schools, and 15% covers increased enrollment in existing schools.

“So accounting for these factors, there is little to no budget “increase.” In addition, existing resources are being cut by $19.7 million, some of which were triggered by declining enrollments, a vicious cycle.

“3. DCPS starts the budgeting process from scratch each year (and takes pride in that), so there may be wild fluctuations from one year to the next in a school’s budget. DCPS may also change its rules about how it allocates funds each year with no notice to schools.

“4. There are also unfunded mandates. Schools at times are “strongly advised” or required to employ staff whose positions are not funded by the comprehensive staffing model (e.g., LEAP, special education managers). Schools must then use their extra funds (if any) to cover unfunded mandates.

“5. One potential myth is that greater enrollment brings more resources. Grade-level teachers are allocated according to the number of students, so unless you have enough kids to trigger an additional classroom in a grade, having more kids doesn’t matter for funding these basic positions.

“6. Social workers and psychologists are allocated to meet students’ IEP hours, so if you have more sped students, staff have greater case loads until you have enough kids to trigger an additional person. Same thing with EL staff.

“7. The only funding streams that are affected by enrollment changes are Title 1, flexible at-risk [FAR], overtime, and NPS [non-personnel spending] funds. But FAR funds are a drop in a bucket, and I couldn’t find substantial variations in FY19 Title 1 funds for schools with similar but different enrollments.

“8. If you hit the 300- or 400-student benchmark as a DCPS elementary school, then you get additional personnel. If you slip below, you get a big cut. But again, DCPS could change their formula tomorrow, so striving for the 400-student benchmark seems risky.

“9. Budgets are then made more complicated by additional rules, carve-outs, and supplements that may show up in one year and be taken away the next.

“You have to ask yourself why you can count on one hand the number of people who understand DCPS budgeting in this town. Is it overly complicated so that budget cuts each year can be disguised as budget “increases”?

“Which brings me to the likely source of the problem: Mayor Bowser. This year, DC may have been negatively impacted by the federal shutdown. But what about last year? Why were schools hit so hard last year?

“Meanwhile, city leaders throw PR at us, telling us that there are no cuts, all schools got an increase. When DCPS cuts multiple staff at a Title 1 school and you constantly receive emails about how much the city cares about equity . . . .

“It’s also questionable whether resources are wasted in central office, either internally or by using city agencies. The response is that school budgets don’t cover all costs. Fair. But name one central office resource that is more impactful to a child than a reading specialist.

“In summary, the current shell game of DCPS school budgeting isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need city leaders who will be champion for kids.

“P.S. The numbers on http://dcpsdatacenter.com [DCPS’s data resource for school budgets, linked above] aren’t fully correct or what schools see.”

Good luck. (Oh, BTW, one can get protest permits for the sidewalk in front of our city hall, the Wilson Building, at 1350 PA Ave. NW, from the National Park Service (really–apparently it’s considered part of the National Mall) by going to the NPS website, at nps.gov/nama/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm.)

One thought on “Budget Oversight Time (>4000 New School Seats Edition)

  1. I think “shell game of DCPS school budgeting” hits the nail right on the head! Only hope the author is right that the shell game budgeting “isn’t going to cut it anymore.” In all the eleven and a half years of reforming DCPS every which-a-way, the budget is the one thing that hasn’t been reformed and the time for that is now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s