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Posted at 06:04 PM ET, 03/28/2012

D.C. school budget: Parents, students decry cuts to high schools, librarians, special ed coordinators

The witness list ran nine pages for Wednesday’s D.C. Council hearing on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposed FY 2013 education budget, testament to the volume of unmet needs--and programs at risk of cuts--in the city’s schools.

Gray’s proposed spending plan provides a 2 percent raise in the student funding formula, which amounts to about $86 million. But basic costs, including teachers salaries, have risen closer to 5 percent. The numbers triggered a long line of speakers describing the prospect of fewer teachers and diminished programs in their schools.

“I’m very concerned,” said D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. “I just don’t understand just how we have better test scores, more students. more money going to the schools and less money going to the classrooms. I believe more money should go to the classrooms.”

The hearing was going strong into its seventh hour at 6 p.m. Officials from DCPS and other education agencies are due to testify on April 18.

A series of residents expressed alarm at DCPS plans to eliminate funding for special education coordinators--school-level administrators who manage the delivery of services to emotionally and physically disabled students. They deal with myriad legal requirements, and convene meetings between parents and educators to plan services for students. Some advocates say that the coordinators have played a role in whatever improvements DCPS has been able to make in its long-troubled--and court-monitored-- special education program.

DCPS says schools are free to use discretionary funds to retain the coordinators. Otherwise, their duties will be handed off to school psychologists. That got sharp pushback Wednesday from the psychologists themselves, whose focus is traditionally testing, intervention and crisis management.

“Our job has nothing to do with what special education coordinators do. Children in DCPS are going to suffer because of this change,” said Harriet Kuhn, a veteran DCPS psychologist. Kuhn said in an interview that the delays and disarray likely to result from the coordinators’ absence will expose the school system to more lawsuits on behalf of special ed families.

“The lawyers who sue the system are going to have a field day,” said Kuhn.

Other testimony raised concerns about DCPS’s plans to discontinue funding for librarians in schools with enrollment under 300. Again, schools are free to fund the position on their own, but the move is expected to affect about 50 schools

I’m very concerned by these changes,” said Stuart-Hobson Middle School parent Laura Marks, calling them, “shortsighted and misguided.”

“In a city that faces such stark challenges in reading and illiteracy, we should be spending more on libraries not less,” Marks said.

Some of the issues addressed Wednesday are perennials, such as funding for DCPS’s open-enrollment “comprehensive” high schools. While the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula provides $10,584 for high schools, the actual amount of money allocated to the schools by DCPS is usually substantially less, ranging between $6,140 and $7218 in the proposed FY 2013 budget. The rest is redistributed by DCPS to other schools or to the system’s central bureaucracy..

“It is in fact unconscionable,” said Cathy Reilly, executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators. Reilly also noted a proposed reduction (from 3.5 percent to 2.75 percent of total budget) in basic supplies, including toilet paper and cleaning materials.

“Everybody shares the goal of devoting lots of resources to our younger children,” said Matthew Frumin, chairman of the Wilson Management Corporation, the non-profit that raises money and advocates for Woodrow Wilson High School. But the city shortchanges high school students “at our shame and at our peril.”

Charter Representatives renewed their long-time debate with the District over inequities in funding of the public, independently-operated schools. Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS said DCPS has long benefited from overestimating the annual enrollment that provides the basis for its budget appropriation from the city--about $100 million over the last four fiscal years. It is likely to collect extra money this year for students it didn’t enroll, he said.

Unlike D.C. public schools, public charter school funding is tied to actual enrollment. Charters can have some of their quarterly payments decreased if enrollment does not meet projections.

David Endom, director of financial planning for KIPP public charter schools, said the school network has to privately raise an extra $1,100 per student to finance its extended school day and school year.

A series of questions e-mailed to DCPS about Wednesday’s testimony was unanswered as of 5:45 p.m.

By  |  06:04 PM ET, 03/28/2012

Tags:  charter schools, D.C. Public Schools

 
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