The State of DC Public Schools Transparency
Even though school is out, and thoughts are probably turning to swimming and summer camp, there’s news about what’s happening in our public schools. Chancellor Kaya Henderson is wrapping up a series of “State of the Schools” meetings across the city, meant to create dialogue between community members, school leaders, and DCPS officials. The events also give the Chancellor an opportunity discuss her new five-year strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, and highlight a few neighborhood schools that won “Proving What’s Possible” grants this summer. DCFPI attended the Ward 1 meeting held this Tuesday.
So what can DC residents glean from the State of the Schools meetings? Often when DCFPI talks about the need for more budget transparency, it can seem like a vague concept. But two examples of how transparency could help folks better understand DCPS decisions came up during Tuesday’s question-and-answer session.
One question was about the schools that eliminated librarian positions for the upcoming school year. Individual schools cut about 29 librarian staff positions from the fiscal year 2013 budget, due to a DCPS decision to reduce funding allocations to smaller schools for librarians, leaving a total of 57 schools without a librarian. When asked about these staff cuts, Chancellor Henderson referred to the collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers Union. It allows these librarians to work at DCPS one more year in another position if they received an “effective” or “highly effective” rating on their evaluations, among other conditions. The loss of librarians is a great concern to many parents and advocates, and it is unclear why DCPS would choose to put a high-performing librarian in another position.
Another issue is cuts to afterschool programs. Chancellor Henderson hinted that DCPS has located some new funding sources to supplement aftercare services — after such services were cut earlier this year — and will make a detailed announcement in the next few weeks. Right now, it is unclear the source of this new funding. We hope the Chancellor will give a detailed answer soon.
Both of these examples highlight the importance for DC residents to have access to a common-sense education budget and understand the rationale behind funding decisions in their schools. If retaining quality staff is important for DCPS, the cuts to highly effective staff do not seem to make sense. Similarly, if there are funds available to supplement some programs even before the school year begins, the public should be able to see where the resources are coming from.
On another note, with many residents concerned about the school closure announcement expected sometime in late 2012, it will be important to participate in the upcoming community conversations being held by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education. These meetings will inform a list of recommendations to DCPS and the Public Charter School Board on how to improve school quality across the city. Please see below for a partial list of meeting dates; more information will be posted on the DME website: http://dme.dc.gov/DC/DME/.
- Ward 1: Thursday July 26th, 6-9pm at CentroNía, 2900 14th St. NW
- Ward 4: Saturday August 18th, 10am-2pm at Emery Rec Center, 5701 Georgia Ave. NW (Location awaiting confirmation)
- Ward 5: Tuesday July 31st, 6:30 – 9pm at St. Catherine’s Hall (Location awaiting confirmation)
- Ward 7: Saturday August 11th, 10am – 2pm at HD Woodson High School, 540 55th St. NE
- Ward 8: TBA