Time To Start Advantaging The DC Public In Its Schools

Despite a few things you may have heard about during the first half of 2020 (you know, a pandemic, global economic collapse, police brutality), our mayor has been very busy in that same period excluding the public and advantaging private education interests at public expense.

To be more specific:

–Mayor Bowser seized the field of a DCPS school (Duke Ellington) to better accommodate the desire of a private school (Maret) to have prime hours at a public field (Jelleff) for the next decade while providing for a new rec center at Ellington field. (Cost: At least several million to renovate the field; unknown cost to DCPS students who had credited programming at that field and may not be able to have it again there.)

–Without a word to the public, Mayor Bowser gifted another private school (Lab) a public resource (old Hardy) for the foreseeable future, while committing $56 million to build a new public elementary school literally right next door to old Hardy to accommodate public school students in the ward with the second smallest number of children because—according to her chancellor during the June 11 council hearing (at 3:42!)—changing boundaries to address overcrowding in Ward 3 schools could “impact” their demographic make-up (even while many students are out of bounds for those schools). (Cost: $56 million.)

–Mayor Bowser promulgated a capital budget that ensures a pay-out to a wealthy private organization (Building Pathways aka Charter School Incubator Initiative aka Building Hope) holding the lease for a public building (Birney) that is housing a public school (Excel)—which DCPS’s Patrick Davis charmingly referenced during the June 11 council hearing (at 4:31!) as the “acquisition” of the (public) building for a (public) school. (Cost: $1.9 million for the public to “acquire” its own building.)

–Mayor Bowser also inserted into the budget support act a specific provision that raises the issue of charter co-locations in DCPS schools, while also ensuring that there is no clear process for which DCPS schools are to be blessed with the gift of charter “donations” for their (formally) public spaces given away to private interests (ironically, underutilized charters in public buildings are ignored). (Cost: Millions in unplanned renovations to accommodate charter co-locations, pressure in sharing facilities, and reduced space for students with a right to attend those DCPS schools, which cannot now offer extra seats in the lottery, thereby ensuring no growth possibility for DCPS schools in co-location arrangements.)

–Without a word to the public, Mayor Bowser just gave away a DCPS school in Ward 8 (Wilkinson) to charters, while also ensuring part of a large, historic DCPS school (Spingarn) will be offered to charters as well, all the while not elaborating anywhere in any detail on the future of DCPS’s empty or soon to be vacated buildings, including Davis, Winston, Emery, Banneker, Garnet-Patterson (one of the last two maybe, possibly a new Center City MS, per June 11’s hearing), Meyer, Kenilworth, Wilkinson, Spingarn (at least as a DCPS school), and Washington Metropolitan.

–And, in an echo of the seizure of Duke Ellington’s field, both Mayor Bowser and (more recently) Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh have floated proposals to co-locate another high school in its building (to alleviate overcrowding in the Wilson feeder pattern and/or create new space for a charter school). Even though Duke Ellington is already at 93% capacity (558 students, with occupancy of 600), and no one has said anything to the high school itself, the proposals have been met with no pushback from any elected official with oversight of education.

Even the mayor’s deputies seem to be following a similarly publicly DIS-connected course.

For instance, during the June 11 council budget hearing for DCPS, the chancellor gave the same answer to questions about the years-long delay in re-naming Aiton; how several Ward 8 schools had been simply disappeared from the capital budget; and when the teachers’ contract expired.

Specifically, he didn’t really have any answers.

But that response could be seen as more nuanced than what the mayor’s other education deputies have been doing with respect to the public interest.

For instance, the office of the deputy mayor for education compiled an online survey for families, ostensibly about plans to return to school. Notwithstanding the fact that we have a huge problem with electronically disconnected families, what that survey appeared to really do was ensure that participants would be forced to choose some variation of going back to school in the fall, thereby approving tacitly a plan that obviously will be put into effect whether parents and the public actually approve it or not.

Look at this question:


Then look at what happened when I tried to not select choices that could be construed to involve physically returning to school:


DCPS’s planning guru, Claudia Lujan, appeared to have gotten the same memo before she spoke to the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization this past week about DCPS’s plans for re-opening in the fall.

Lujan began by asking if we parents had filled out the survey, noting that no scenarios were ruled out and that there would be a virtual option as well as a strong “hybrid” option.

Despite that, she had no details on custodial staffing; no details on who would make the schedules of which students would show up on what days (or how such determinations would be made); and no information about the availability of testing or personal protective gear for teachers and students (though curiously Lujan noted that some schools have more room than others and thus there needed to be “consistency” in spacing across schools—good luck in parsing what that actually means, but suffice it to say that new charter co-location provision is probably involved).

Not surprisingly, in both Lujan’s talk as well as the survey, there was nothing about having teachers teach from school buildings, using the equipment and technology there, while NOT having in person learning until there’s a vaccine. There was also nothing about using phones and phone technology to have students access those and other such classes, as was apparently done with some success at Jefferson MS.

The Buck Stops With US!

Thankfully, there are lots of good people and organizations with specific action items to ensure the public is put forward in all budgets here out—and anyone can advocate for any of this at the council until June 25:

School libraries: Right now, librarians in DCPS schools appear to track with the socioeconomics of the student bodies. For instance, all schools in our wealthiest ward, Ward 3, will have librarians, while seven Ward 8 schools will not in FY21, and another four in Ward 8 will have only part-time librarians. (See a spreadsheet here of library staffing, created by the Washington Teachers’ Union.) In a very basic ask, restoring the 21 DCPS school librarians cut in FY21 would cost $2.3 million.

Digital devices: Digital Equity in DC Education has noted that DCPS is giving up on a 1:1 student-device ratio and moving to a “needs-based” approach for allocating technology. While this seems natural on one level, given budget constraints, the problem is that if there aren’t enough devices to meet all needs, it will be easy to make, well, arbitrary decisions for rationing what is available. Thus, advocating for $11 million will ensure that DCPS can make good on its promise of a 1:1 ratio of devices to its students.

Mental health: There can be no doubt that mental health supports will be ever more important once school resumes. Here is a petition calling for enacting a $4 million expansion of school-based mental health providers.

Now: where will that $17.3 million ask for digital devices and librarians and school-based mental health providers come from?

Let us start with all those millions, at the top of this blog post, to advantage private interests.

Then let us add defunding the police–or at least not approving the contract for private security guards in schools (Savings: Lives! Oh, and at least $24 million.)

Now let us add raising taxes on the wealthiest among us, among other measures.

Now let us add in a whole host of cost-saving measures that could be done tomorrow–really!–in our schools.

And now let us add in all the fiscal consequences (and structural issues) around the loss of DCPS’s Head Start funds–and what needs to be done to ensure DC once again has that money.

Yes, DC: We can do this!

Let’s make advantaging the PUBLIC a thing for the second half of 2020.

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