DC Public Schools Public Budget Hearing
Fiscal Year 22 (School Year 21-22)
November 23, 2020
Delivered by W5EEC Member Robert Henderson
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today regarding the DCPS budget. My name is Robert Henderson. I am a resident of the Fort Lincoln neighborhood in Ward 5, and a member of the Ward 5 Education Equity Committee.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into even sharper relief many long-standing inequities rooted in racism and economic injustice, including those in public education. At the broadest level, I ask that you put the elimination of such inequities and disparities at the top of your list of guiding principles as you plan the budget for the next school year and beyond.
I first want to ask that, though a small subset of the overall student population, students with complex disabilities would receive due consideration in your budgeting priorities, including support for additional staff and specialized curricula, and increased community-based options.
Secondly, the UPSFF study recently issued by the Deputy Mayor of Education points again to the need for additional funding targeted for at-risk students, particularly those with multiple at-risk factors, as an urgent need. I would ask that every effort be made to ensure that money allocated for at-risk students be expended directly to support them. Moving forward, I encourage DCPS to be receptive to and responsive to the recommendations of the experts on the UPSFF Working Group and elsewhere pertaining to adjustments in at-risk weights. And I ask for a transparent, two-way engagement on potential changes to the DCPS funding model that accounts for input from LSATs, school leaders, and teachers.
Thirdly, while meeting students and teachers’ needs for sufficient devices and internet bandwidth is especially crucial for distance learning, a one-to-one student to device ratio and sufficient internet access is a minimal requirement for a 21st century education. For that reason, I commend to you the call from Digital Equity in DC Education for a comprehensive DCPS technology plan including devices for every student and teacher, tech support, and digital literacy support, and to push for and collaborate on a citywide infrastructure to provide adequate internet access to all.
And finally, in preparation for partial reopening, many DCPS buildings have received needed HVAC repairs and upgrades. I have heard from parents of students in Ward 5 schools who have expressed concerns about outdated bathroom facilities that would present challenges for school readiness, pandemic or not. To the extent that such basic needs could be folded into COVID-related upgrades, school communities will benefit.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today,
Committee of the Whole
Committee on Education
Joint Budget Oversight Hearing
for all Education Agencies
June 4, 2020
Delivered by W5EEC Member Robert Henderson
Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing. My name is Robert Henderson. I am a Ward 5 resident and parent, and a member of the Ward 5 Education Equity Committee. We have been meeting monthly for the past year. As a new organization, we began our work with a commitment to listen to the school leaders, teachers, students, and families of our Ward 5 schools, and conducted a survey. Our findings from that survey inform my testimony today.
Perhaps not surprisingly, but still worth noting, we found that families overwhelmingly prioritize student safety and academic performance. School leaders express confidence in their teachers and the academic quality of their schools, while they also, along with teachers and students, identify specific growth areas and needs from building modernization to stronger WiFi for student work at school, to expanded enrichment and internship opportunities. And of course, all these things require resources.
As our group turned from listening to advocating based on what we had heard, I sought to learn more about the budget. This led me to an event at the end of February hosted by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute where I learned about a 2013 study commissioned by the Deputy Mayor of Education, the DC Education Adequacy Study, that identified a minimum funding level to provide all DC students with a high-quality education. I also learned that since the study was completed, the city has never funded the schools to that level. The analysts at DCFPI outlined a proposal to close the gap between the last enacted budget and the level from the Adequacy study over two years. I excitedly shared this at our next Ward 5 committee meeting, convinced that closing the gap was a reasonable ask.
That meeting was March 9th.
So much has transpired since then, with significant implications for the budget as a whole and for education in particular. Teachers and families have valiantly endeavored to adapt to distance learning, and as we prepare for the fall, school leaders anticipate increased need for PPE for staff and students; sanitizing supplies; digital equipment, software, and tech and digital literacy supports; and mental health staff and resources.
In this time we have also learned of and mourned the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
We’ve heard our city cry out for racial justice, that black lives matter. We need to commit to a budget that screams that too.
There are many systems that contribute to and perpetuate inequality, but we are here to talk today about schools. As I reflected on all of this in preparation for this testimony, I concluded that the only reasonable thing to ask is that at minimum, we fund our schools at the level identified by the adequacy study. We also need to commit to increased at-risk funding and ensure that it helps the students who need it. And finally, we need to ensure that every student has close access to a high-quality, adequately funded school of right; we cannot leave this to the chance of a lottery.
Some Ward 5 school leaders expressed to me their appreciation that the Mayor’s proposal contains a 3% per-pupil increase and acknowledged the difficult budgetary circumstances. While I too appreciate the effort to protect this increase, I think we must do more. Instead of making hard choices among vitally needed public goods, we need you to make admittedly hard choices to increase revenue. The costs of inadequately funding our schools will be higher later than they are now, and the whole city will benefit over the long term, including those asked to bear a greater share of the fiscal burden this year.
Before I close, I want to mention a few specific concerns: we need to reform and improve our methods for counting enrollment. Ward 5 is home to several shelters that serve students experiencing homelessness, which can cause substantial variation in the enrollment of nearby schools. Funding can become significantly out of step with enrollment during the year, putting a severe resource strain on those schools.
Particularly as we continue some level of distance learning in the fall, we need to ensure that all students have access to the technology and internet resources that they need. I commend to you the recommendations made by the parent-led group, Digital Equity in DC Education, specifically to provide an additional $11 million (on top of the $6.9 million in the mayor's budget) for computer devices so that all DCPS students in K-12 can start the school year with a computer for in-school and at-home learning and for accountability for the provision of IT support for at-home learners.
Finally, I ask you to keep the Mayor’s proposed funding for the full modernization of Browne Education Campus and stabilization of the Spingarn building. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.
The parent-led group, Digital Equity in DC Education, recommends an additional $11 million (on top of the $6.9 million in the mayor's budget) for computer devices so that all DCPS students in K-12 can start the school year with a computer for in-school and at-home learning and for accountability for the provision of IT support for at-home learners.
The Ward 5 EEC circulated and added signatories the following letter and sent it to Councilmember Charles Allen
Dear Councilmember Charles Allen,
We, the undersigned Ward 5 residents, urge you, as chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, to support and pursue the removal of police from all DC public and public charter schools, and to make a substantial investment in expanding mental health, violence-interruption, social-emotional learning, and transformative justice approaches.
Instead of making students safer, the presence of police in schools increases the likelihood that students will be arrested or have negative interactions with police through the criminalization of adolescent behavior, survival behavior, or responses to trauma. The harm done by this misguided approach falls overwhelmingly on Black students; 92% of school-based arrests are of Black students.
Currently, DCPS has:
We believe that this approach is backwards. Instead of increasing investments in violence and trauma prevention through violence-interruption programs and mental and social-emotional supports, we have instead doubled down on policing in our schools, which has been reactionary, damaging, and ineffective. Current school security personnel, who have strong ties to students and communities, can be retrained for non-policing, supportive roles such as mediation that can contribute to school culture and safety. Resources can be diverted to better train school security personnel as well as other school-based staff in de-escalation and restorative justice practices, and bolster investments in mental health, violence-interruption, and social-emotional staff and supports.
As an interim step in achieving the above, we urge you to take authority over the Security Assurance Management contract away from MPD and return it to DCPS, prohibit the hiring off-duty law enforcement or special police officers, and defund the School Security Division of MPD.
Thank you for your attention to these matters that are of utmost importance for ensuring the safety of DC students.
Governance and Oversight
Committee on Government Operations and Facilities
Committee of the Whole
Joint Public Oversight Roundtable on School Facility Conditions
During the Re-Opening for School Year 2021-2022
September 28, 2021
Delivered by W5EEC Vice-Chair Robert Henderson
Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s roundtable. My name is Robert Henderson. I am a Ward 5 resident and parent, and vice chair of the Ward 5 Education Equity Committee. Conversations with and surveys of Ward 5 parents and families as well as direct communication with Ward 5 school leaders inform my testimony today.
It has never been more important to the safety and well-being of our students than this year, during an ongoing pandemic, to have school facilities and systems in top working order. That so many of our schools opened this year with failing HVAC systems (at least 3 of 13 DCPS campuses in Ward 5), poorly ventilated bathrooms and hallways, and leaking roofs is nothing short of scandalous. And yet it is all too true that, for some schools and students more than others, this is nothing new.
I thank Councilmember Robert White and his office staff for reaching out in June to identify recurring maintenance issues in DCPS schools so that they could be addressed before schools reopened this fall, even as some students had already returned to school buildings as early as February. Unfortunately, this proactive oversight effort was not enough. Maybe you could have started sooner. Maybe it would not have mattered.
The status quo system is deeply dysfunctional. It ought to be enough for a school leader to identify a problem, submit a request, and have repairs completed. Instead, we find that even parent organizing, media attention, and council oversight is not enough to get timely repairs, no matter how urgent those repairs are for the health and safety of our students.
Looking at the facilities needs among Ward 5 DCPS schools, two common themes strike me. First, several needs stem from or are worsened by unresponsiveness by or insufficient coordination among multiple city agencies, be it DCPR, DDOT, or DGS. And second, school modernization has been implemented inequitably, and while laudable, the efforts to correct those inequities nonetheless leave a group of schools with unacceptable conditions and no prospect for modernization in the near future. We must find a way, in my opinion, to make substantial capital investments to bring those schools to acceptable facilities conditions — safe and healthy at minimum — even if they will not undergo full modernization. Otherwise, we consign the students there to an unsafe learning environment and leave the schools to struggle to retain faculty and maintain enrollment.
Families, teachers, and most of all, our students see and live the discrepancy between the lofty rhetoric of district leadership about health and safety and the realities of their school facilities. What will they conclude about their worth?
The Ward 5 Education Equity Committee reached out to each DCPS school leader in Ward 5 in June and again this month in preparation for this roundtable. We passed on recurring issues to Councilmember White’s staff in June; many of them are still outstanding. I have listed in my written testimony current issues as reported by school leaders and parents (see appendix), but I will share a few of them now.
Three schools, Langdon, Langley, and Phelps opened the school year with stopgap HVAC solutions of limited effectiveness. In the case of Langdon, promised repairs have been delayed. Browne, Noyes, and Phelps needed or still need additional traffic controls and/or crossing guards to ensure student safety while approaching their schools. Langley has a chronically leaking roof that has already made some spaces unusable. And Wheatley Education Campus needs help from DCPR to ensure that students can safely enjoy recess. You can find a more detailed list of facilities issues attached to my written testimony.
Appendix: Itemized Facilities Concerns of Ward 5 DCPS Schools
Browne Education Campus
Need help getting the tennis and basketball courts across from the school cleaned up and made safe for students to play. Apparently, the space is under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service.
Langdon opened the school year without a fully working HVAC system. Some classrooms have window units and spot coolers that don’t always work and are loud – making it difficult for teachers and students to hear one another. They have been awaiting HVAC repair since then. Repairs were promised by mid-September, but have been delayed and now are not expected before the end of October.
A crumbling roof has caused damage in several places throughout the school, including in bathrooms that also lack sufficient ventilation. Hallways also lack ventilation and therefore have poor air quality. Several staff spaces have also had to be relocated elsewhere in the building due to the leaking roof. The roof leak also has caused damage to the ceilings and walls in the cafeteria - this section of the roof has been patched, but the wall and ceiling damage remains. The cafeteria has no working bathroom, leaving children eating lunch there with no place to wash their hands. The elevator project that was supposed to be complete before the start of the school year is delayed due to “unforeseen issues with the roof.”
A/C units were not ready for the start of the school year despite many months of expressed concerns to DGS and DCPS Facilities. Temporary solutions such as spot coolers, have been insufficient, leaving hot rooms with coolers blowing loudly and impeding teaching and learning.
The traffic situation with the addition of SWS @Goding in proximity to Phelps presented profound issues during the first two weeks of school. There are real safety concerns with the traffic flow. No flaggers or safety measures have been put in place (after months of pleading and requests). Dangerous intersections and encounters with pedestrians and automobiles are present each day. Our temporary measures are not sustainable and are insufficient to ensure safety.
Wheatley’s playground and fields are open to the community during the school day.
Community members on playground while our scholars are at recess.
Young men shooting craps on the playground during recess and using profanity (inappropriate behavior)
At the beginning of the school year, the splash park was still on, thus large groups of community members were on the playground during recess.
Dogs unleashed on the field running through while scholars are playing on the field at recess.
Gates are often not unlocked by DPR Park Rangers (DCPS staff do not have a key) and scholars have to walk in the alley with cars speeding through all day to access the playground and field.
Grass is not cut, making parts of the park unusable.
Having exclusive access to the space from 11:30am-1:30pm would be ideal.
Committee of the Whole
Performance Oversight Hearing
for all Education Agencies
March 9, 2021
Delivered by W5EEC Vice-Chair Robert Henderson
Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing. My name is Robert Henderson. I am a Ward 5 resident and parent, and vice chair of the Ward 5 Education Equity Committee. Our organization has been meeting monthly for the past two years convening school leaders, teachers, students, and families of our Ward 5 schools. Those meetings as well as regular communication with these groups inform my testimony today.
Over the past year, I have tried to live by a mantra of extending grace to all, as together we work through extraordinary and extraordinarily difficult circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to a great extent, I think that applies here. Teachers have quickly and admirably adjusted to new ways of teaching, and students have persevered. However, in some cases, I can think of no reason, pandemic or not, to justify certain aspects of the performance of some agencies over the past year.
Beginning with DCPS, I have repeatedly heard from school leaders and teachers about learning of District plans from press briefings, indicating both a lack of engagement and collaboration with these parties, and a lack of respect for the preparation needed to communicate and implement these plans. DCPS has repeatedly failed to assess the demand for in-person learning and has pushed a series of reopening plans that have put an inordinate burden on each school and their staffs to provide opportunities for a small number of students while increasing the number of students each teacher has in remote classes. DCPS leadership has taken a combative, rather than collaborative stance towards employees, not seeking their input and dismissing it when volunteered. Most recently, they pushed for in-person instruction at point when a few more weeks coupled with prioritization could have resulted in all onsite personnel being fully vaccinated before opening buildings. The District already had teacher retention challenges, and this treatment will undoubtedly exacerbate them.
Unrelated to and unabated by the pandemic, the DC Public Charter School Board continues to approve new charters, essentially creating a boundless supply of seats for a system that already has many schools below capacity. When budgets are largely tied to enrollment, this creates and exacerbates inequities across sectors and across the city. In Ward 5, we have 35 charter campuses and now 14 DCPS campuses. It does not seem to be the responsibility of the charter school board to consider the implications of charter expansion on traditional public schools. Who then, is doing comprehensive, cross-sector planning?
This leads me up the organizational chart, which if I understand correctly – it is quite convoluted – is the Mayor. It does not seem that the Mayor’s office or the Deputy Mayor for Education for that matter, provides comprehensive cross-sector planning or oversight.
The status quo doesn’t seem to be working well. The school system is not fulfilling basic priorities for equity and quality. Too many students don’t have the opportunities or supports that they need. Too often, you have to step in to demand that the agencies deliver basic plans. Schools continue to receive budget increases that fail to prevent cuts to much-needed staff. These issues preceded the pandemic and without significant changes, will continue after it. We need to rethink the fundamentals of education in the city including the governance structure and budgeting.
The State Board of Education has become the agency most engaged with the public, with hours of public comment many of the meetings over the past year. The SBOE is devoted to education rather than the broader set of areas that are the responsibility of the council or the mayor, and is well positioned to exercise greater authority over education in the district. An independent Office of the State Superintendent of Education to depoliticize education decisions.
We can do better for our students, and we must. We need our education leaders to genuinely engage with the public, and to collaborate with and support the teachers who know our students best.
I will have additional testimony regarding the budget in the coming months, but for now I will just ask that the council fund the Addressing Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties Act of 2020.
Students with Complex Disabilities
Good evening everyone,
Hello, my name is Rickita Perry and I am an 8th year special education teacher within DCPS. I currently work in a medical and education support program at Turner Elementary school. The MES program serves students with complex medical needs and typically also have a developmental disorder or intellectual disability.
Before I begin I want to first say thank you to Mr. Robert Henderson for inviting me to speak to the Ward 5 Education Equity committee members as well as allowing me to stay on to listen to the work you are already doing.
I thought I would spend some of my time diving into a few data points. My apologies if this is information of which you’re already aware, but I think it’s important to review as it helps bring context to the concerns teachers, school staff and the parents who work with students with complex needs.
In 2019 OSSE shared that of DC’s over 47,000 students, 17% of those students received some form of specialized instruction. According to a 2017 OSSE transition exit report, nearly 1,000 students received a certificate of IEP completion. And finally, of those 1,000 students (although difficult to find the number, and this adds to the narrative of students with complex needs not being considered, of students about 100 students attend River Terrace and close to 20 students are split between Turner Elementary and School Within a School MES programs.). This brings us to 120 or less students with complex disabilities to include profound intellectual disabilities coupled with physical disabilities, deaf, blind, etc. So it is understandable that when DCPS or education advocacy groups are passing equity initiatives that those students aren’t in the forethought. What I hope to do with my brief moment with you is to remind you that anytime you are advocating for equity in DC public education, it must include students with varying physical, intellectual and medical needs who are also mostly black or brown.
Let’s look at Ward 5. Upon a quick review what I noticed is there are a plethora of CES programs within Ward 5 on an elementary level. There is only one ELS program, which could possibly support a student with complex needs, but more than likely they will be bused (over 700 students are on the bus 1 hour or more one way each day) to the three schools I mentioned previously. By Middle school of the two schools, only one has an ILS program. By high school of the four only one has an ILS program (also there is no CES program listed in Ward 5 by high school. So again, it is understandable that students with complex needs are overlooked because more than likely those students are not even represented in this Ward.
(I would be remised to not discuss the Youth Service Center, who has nearly 65% of students with IEPs but there transition outcomes are less than 10 students in all areas measured in the OSSE 2017 Transition Outcome report.)
But for this moment I am talking about the 120 students or less who are integral parts of the DCPS community.
So what are we asking?
• More inclusive practices for students in full time programs. This builds a culture of inclusivity.
• Closer options for medically fragile students to attend school or holding OSSE accountable for better bus routes. (oxygen tank limits, behaviors, fatigue, feeding schedules, etc).
• Ability for teachers to ask for specific curriculum and assistive technology needs.
• Better oversight on what is happening at River Terrace, because more than likely a child in Ward 5 would attend River Terrace if they are considered one with complex needs:
o Teacher training
o Behavior management
o Full time Nurse (including during after care)
o Student staff ratio
o Claims of abuse and neglect taken seriously
• In increase of staff in full time programs (the current ratio doesn’t allow for safety)
• The same as elementary school
• A call flor DCPS to reinstate funding for community based instruction
• More school options for students on certificate path in every Ward
• The same as elementary school
• A call DCPS to reinstate funding for community based instruction
• OSSE to collect data specifically on outcomes for students who are in MES programs (interagency connections, where are they, how satisfied are parents)
• Post-secondary opportunities for students in certificate path
• More school options for students on certificate path in every Ward
COVID 19 related demands:
• Connect with parents
• Survey teachers and parents
• Assurances of specifically assigned PPE and a responsive ordering system
• A opt out of in person without penalty for teachers and parents
• A system for documenting specialized instruction during distance learning
• Considerations being made about OSSE transportation
• Assigned nurses (2 at a minimum) to MES programs
• Access to funds for teachers to purchase specific instructional materials for students who may be hard of hearing, blind, deaf, or cortical visual impairment
• Increased staff per class but a scheduling structure that allows for staff and students to social distance themselves within the class
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