Council budget vote on Tues: What we still need; W3EdNet meeting; Student Survey

Ruth Wattenberg

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New Buildings and additions—mixed news
What we still need… 

On the plus side....

The DC Council took its first vote on the city budget for the next fiscal year (which starts Oct 1, 2022) last week.  The Council will follow with its second and final vote next week on May 24.       

The budget, as passed, increases funding for students who are designated “at-risk” and uses “stabilization” funding to assure that most schools do not suffer budget decreases due to  drops in enrollment  resulting from the pandemic.  The budget  adds capacity and conducts renovations in a number of schools, including providing a permanent addition for Deal Middle School.  I thank DCPS for making these proposals, and I thank the DC Council, which often improved on them!
But we still have several serious problems that must be addressed in this budget, plus additional, ongoing overcrowding issues that must be addressed in next year’s budget.

But: In this year’s budget we still need: 
  1. Additional operating funds to prevent staffing cuts at Hardy Middle School.  
  2. Funding for a larger addition for Stoddert to better meet its projected enrollment and avoid future overcrowding or the need to send students to much less convenient schools.
  3. Sufficient funding to allow the new MacArthur High School to finish most construction by August 2023—with a capacity of ~750. 
Plus, for next year’s budget, the Council must assure funding for the new Foxhall Elementary School and move to address imminent overcrowding and renovation needs at Hardy Middle School. 

Further background:
  1. Additional operating funds to prevent staffing cuts at Hardy Middle School.  Because of Covid-related enrollment changes and the availability of Covid-related funds, there was an effort to ensure that all schools would be funded at least at the level that they were funded last year and that no school would lose staffing. This commitment has largely been met across the city and across Ward 3. But for some reason, Hardy MS was excluded from it and is slated to lose 3 staff.  See this sample email recommended by the Hardy Middle School PTO.
  1. A larger addition to Stoddert. The Mayor/DCPS proposed an addition that would give Stoddert a capacity of 523. But, Stoddert's projected 2028 enrollment is 613! Even if post-pandemic enrollment doesn't fully recover, Stoddert families will once again be in an overcrowded scohol or its students will have to go to less-, even far-less, convenient schools. In its last vote, the DC Council voted for a good compromise: Stoddert must be built for at least 554 students and built with an infrastructure that allows a 3rd floor to be added contingent on enrollment projections. We now need the Council to add $1.5m to fund the larger additionHere is my email to Council Members on this.
  2. Sufficient funding to allow MacArthur High School to open comfortably in August 2023—with a capacity of 750. The original budget called for $25m to be spent in the upcoming year to make the new high school ready to open for its first class in August, 2023. The proposed budget, as passed last week, greatly reduces those funds. 
Why is the budget being reduced for MacArthur and what should be done? A big reason the funds were scaled back: widespread opposition to DCPS’s proposal to build the school for 1000 students, with hundreds of seats intended for students across the city. (Right now, Hardy sends ~90 students a year to Wilson. Even if that number were to rise by 50-75% over the next period, that would total 135-160 students per grade for a total of 540-640 students once all grades have been phased in.) 
Schools in many other parts of the city are already suffering from under-enrollment.  That’s largely in response to the proliferation of charters.  But it’s also because DCPS has not adequately invested in these schools, opting instead to draw students to attend other schools across the city. Their lowered enrollment puts these schools into a death spiral: When their enrollment decreases, their school budget decreases accordingly, their program quality declines, followed by decreased enrollment and so on and so on. 

According to education advocates representing schools and neighborhoods across the city, building a super-sized MacArthur to recruit from their schools would intensify their death spiral. And it would fly in the face of their efforts to enhance and strengthen the quality of their local schools.  
These concerns have led Council Chairman Mendelson to delay much of the funding for MacArthur until DCPS revises its enrollment plan; he believes that the smaller amount is sufficient to open the school for its first class in August 2023.
 I'm dubious. The reduced funds will mean less construction prior to August '23, meaning new students could enter the school while it is in the midst of construction. We need the school to be mainly complete when these initial students enter. 

I signed this letter, along with education advocates across the city, calling simultaneously for a 750-student school (not 1000) AND restoring "sufficient funds to appropriately renovate the building in time for the school's inaugural cohort of students at this lower capacity. Finally the city should move expeditiously on developing a programmatic plan for the school in answer to Hardy families' many questions."

The compromise to move this forward is clear: Let's do what's necessary to build out MacArthur High School so new students aren’t in a construction zone. But build it for a capacity of 750. That is what the Wilson/Jackson Reed feeder pattern needs. It's what future MacArthur families need. And it is what education advocates across the city can support. 

Reminders for next year’s budget: Addressing overcrowding 

New Foxhall School: 
The Council delayed funding of the new Foxhall School for one year. Since construction wasn’t scheduled to begin until calendar year 2024, this will not result in construction delays or delayed opening, as will any further delay in MacArthur or Stoddert funding. The scheduled opening is still August 2025. The Council’s delay is intended to give more time for  DCPS, the community, and the Council to work through the various complications presented by the new school (How large will it be? Who will attend? How will traffic be addressed?) It’s critical that we move forward on a Foxhall solution that alleviates the projected overcrowding at Key and Mann elementaries that Foxhall is intended to address.
Email your Council Members about these budget issues!

PMENDELSON@..., mcheh@..., abonds@..., rwhite@..., chenderson@..., esilverman@...

Student Survey!! 
The State Board of Education has a terrific, active, engaged Student Advisory Committee. It is taking an increasingly active role in engaging city students and bringing their views to our State Board discussions. They are distributing this survey, mainly on safety and health issues. Please encourage your students to complete it! 
Next W3EdNet Meeting/last of school year
June 7, 7 PM - 
The meeting will have two topics: 

School Parking Zones. 
Jason Meggs from the District Department of Transportation,
 about the School Parking Zone Working Group and the regulations that it has been working on for defining school parking zones and how many (and to whom) parking passes to issue to school staff.  Any school with limited parking will want to hear what he has to say, ask questions, and give comments!

- School Governance (and SBOE updates). 
Ruth Wattenberg, W3 State Board of Education (SBOE) Representative
, on proposed modifications to mayoral control/school governance.  

Register in advance for this meeting here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

As always, if you have thoughts on the above or other suggestions, feel free to email me, ruth4schools@... [ruth4schools @ yahoo dot com]

Please follow me @ruth4schools for the most up to date news!

Ruth Wattenberg
Ward 3 State Board of Education