Saving DCPS From Itself

[Ed. Note: Herein is a cross posting around recent essays by DCPS parents Allyson Criner Brown and Emily Roderer (via DC Line) and DCPS budget analyst Mary Levy (via C4DC). Together, their essays outline how DCPS can be saved from itself and the ministrations of political entities. Of course, whether DCPS will be saved is TBD; the mandated DCPS budget hearing on November 16 featured hours of parents and students testifying about frequent problems, while Digital Equity in DC Education continues its excellent work outlining how DCPS persistently falls short and as DCPS budgeting will be overhauled in some manner come next school year. So stay tuned–and read on.]

“What makes a great public school, where students can truly thrive, teachers want to teach, and parents want to send their kids?”

Excellent question!

So begins an October DC Line essay by two DCPS parents, Allyson Criner Brown and Emily Roderer, on changes that need to happen for DCPS to thrive. Those changes include

“adequate funding, supports and resources to address the needs and challenges of each school’s student population. It takes a respectful culture that values and supports all staff in the building, all students, and their families. And it takes respect for teachers, including supportive working conditions and a contract with a pay raise that they haven’t received in three years.”

As a result of talking with teachers and families, they observed “common themes” around the epidemic of poor teacher retention in DCPS, including “frustration with standardized testing and other demands that reduce teaching time in the classroom; a DCPS teacher evaluation system that many characterize as punitive; little schedule flexibility and a challenging work-life balance.”

Noting that DCPS teachers have not had a contract or raise in 3 years, Criner Brown and Roderer concluded that a contract with DCPS is key to schools having robust communities, excellent learning, and stability going forward. Sadly, DCPS teachers are no closer to having a contract than they were when this essay was published last month—underscoring the terrible lack of priority among the mayor and her deputies of teacher retention, happiness, and school stability. [Happiest update I have ever made on this blog as of 11/23/22: as of this posting, DCPS teachers now have a contract!!]

To be sure, one issue behind DCPS’s perennial problems is money—and the equally perennial problem of DCPS adequately funding its schools for the students they serve.

To address this, legislation currently bandied about in the DC Council attempts to force how DCPS budgets for its schools, in the name of budget stability. The bill has had multiple hearings–and multiple drafts by the bill’s author, council chair Phil Mendelson. In the meantime, DCPS itself is pushing a new budget model, away from a comprehensive staffing model to one based more closely on enrollment.

But as Mary Levy explains in an essay at C4DC, despite its touted purpose of stabilizing schools, the draft bill in its most current, publicly available form mainly protects the stability of funding, not staff positions—despite rhetoric otherwise. This is problematic inasmuch as it gives DCPS flexibility to get rid of staff, exacerbating poor teacher retention and instability at the school level, while saying it is preserving funding.

To show how this bait and switch works, Levy simulated this school year’s budgets under the terms outlined in the most recent version of the draft bill. She found that with projected enrollment declines that could justify cutting a teacher,

“forty-eight of 116 schools would have lost about $108,000 per FTE [full-time employee] position eliminated this way. Most of these lost 25 or more students, but a dozen had only decreases that were small, but would have combined two small classes into one larger. . . . on the other hand, DCPS’ New [budget] Model cuts every school about $6,000 for each fewer projected student—adding up to the funding for one teacher per 18 students lost. Most of the schools losing money under the bill would have lost even more money under the New [DCPS] Model [of funding].”

Levy also discovered that despite the bill’s stated purpose of reducing money to DCPS’s central office (boldface mine),

“due to the loss of these positions attributable to enrollment decline, the bill’s results in total dollars would have added up to the amount actually allocated by DCPS in FY 2023. Central offices would not have lost any money. In addition, the amount actually given to the schools was considerably inflated at many by “stabilization” allocations, some of which are to be discontinued, threatening losses even without enrollment decline.”

To read more about this budget simulation, and the assumptions behind it, see Levy’s full essay at C4DC. The current publicly available draft of the DCPS budget bill, dated September, is being revised as this blog is posted and will likely be made public a short time before it is expected to be voted on, in early December.

It also remains to be seen whether the chancellor’s veiled threat at C4DC in October–that while he didn’t envision closing schools, the budget bill could result in difficult budget decisions—comes to pass.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s