Catania seeks to shift school renovations, add at-risk funds

D.C. Council Education Committee Chairman David A. Catania is proposing to delay reopening the old Spingarn High School for several years in order to pay for renovations at existing schools, where parents have been advocating for improvements.

The move would allow Catania — a mayoral candidate who has made education a key issue in his race against council colleague Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) — to give those parents what they’ve been seeking.

Catania (I-At Large) also wants other changes to Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposed spending plan, according to the committee’s draft budget recommendations. Dozens of schools would see up to $100,000 each in additional funds for at-risk students, for example, while a few charter schools would receive a total of $1.4 million to fill gaps in
summer-school funding.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes Thursday before sending them on to the council for consideration.

The most dramatic shifts are expected to be in Gray’s school-renovation budget, which triggered protests from disappointed parents in recent weeks.

Read the proposed budget changes

report

Councilmember David A. Catania's education committee proposed changes to the D.C. schools' budget, shifting renovation funds and adding money for at-risk students. Read it.

Spingarn, in Northeast, is not the only vacant building with a slated renovation that Catania would like to delay. Northwest’s Shaw Middle, which had been scheduled for a $50 million overhaul beginning in fiscal 2016, would have the bulk of its work pushed back to fiscal 2019.

The delays would allow for investments in existing schools, which parents say desperately need renovating. But the changes also would derail Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s plan to turn Spingarn into a vocational training center and a linchpin in the city’s efforts to revitalize career and technology education.

Henderson budgeted $62 million to renovate Spingarn during the next two years. But Catania and other council members have argued that the school system can accomplish its career-
education goals within existing high schools, many of which are not fully enrolled. The money would be better spent, they have said, on schools for younger children that are growing and improving but are housed in decrepit buildings.

Under Catania’s proposal, renovations would be moved up to 2015 at schools including Watkins Elementary on Capitol Hill, where modernization work has been pushed back three times in four years, as well as Marie Reed Elementary in Adams Morgan and Orr Elementary in historic Anacostia — two of the last D.C. schools saddled with the open-floor plans trendy in the 1970s.

Capitol Hill’s School Within a School also would see a boost to its renovation budget next year, as would Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan and Murch Elementary in Upper Northwest. Catania declined to insert money for Johnson Middle in Southeast, a priority of Education Committee member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), but he did include an important prize for parents — and voters — east of the Anacostia River: $8 million to begin planning for a new application-only middle school in Ward 7.

Wards 7 and 8 also stand to gain from Catania’s proposal to boost funding for about three-dozen schools that should have received more dollars for at-risk students under a law passed last year.

Gray (D) allocated $44 million for at-risk students in the school system, money that, according to the new law, was supposed to be distributed to schools proportionally, based on enrollment of those children.

But school system officials said it was not possible to comply with the new mandate immediately. They used the funding for Henderson’s budget priorities, which they argue are meant to serve at-risk students.

The Education Committee has identified schools that received less than half of the at-risk funds they were due. Those schools would receive either the amount necessary to bring them to that 50 percent mark or $100,000, whichever is less, for a total investment of $2.8 million.The city expects to pay tuition for fewer special-education students next year, saving a total of more than $5 million. The committee recommends using that money to bolster summer-school funding for some charter schools, which had faced cuts because summer-school funding is now supposed to be paid for out of funds for at-risk students. The rest of the tuition money would be redirected toward funding an expansion of subsidies for child care ($2.25 million); restoring funds to a popular community-schools pilot program ($500,000); establishing a new office of the student advocate, whose job is to help families navigate the public schools ($261,000); expanding services for adults with learning disabilities ($340,000); and hiring two new liaisons to help schools better serve homeless youth ($200,000).

Most of those funds — $2 million — would come from DCPS savings in “certain non-instructional spending,” according to the education committee, while another $800,000 would come from the line item dedicated to private-school tuition for special-education students.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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