Henderson faced skepticism Thursday when she testified before the D.C. Council’s Education Committee. Committee members blasted the spending cuts and expressed concern that they could cripple efforts to persuade parents to send their children to the city’s traditional public schools.
Henderson told the committee that she has little choice but to shift resources because of the system’s failure to meet enrollment projections. The system received per-pupil funding this year for a projected enrollment of about 47,000 students, but only 45,500 showed up. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has said he was obligated to use a more realistic number for next year: 46,060.
“We would have to take the money from somewhere else,” Henderson told the committee. “We are doing the best we can with the hand we were dealt.”
Parents and politicians say the reductions threaten families’ faith in the school system, particularly in nonselective high schools and middle schools, many of which are facing deep cuts. At Stuart-Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill, where enrollment is projected to rise but the budget would be sliced by 12 percent, students would be able to take a foreign language only if parents raised enough money to hire an after-school teacher.
“The message that [D.C. Public Schools] sends to families looking for anything other than the bare minimum is, ‘Go to charters,’ ” said Laura Marks, a PTA member at Watkins Elementary, which is a feeder school for Stuart-Hobson. “It’s like DCPS has given up the game at middle school. They’re just walking away from it.”
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the Education Committee, said Henderson and Gray should have done more to reallocate resources so that no school experiences a cut of more than 5 percent. Catania said several schools — including Eliot-Hine Middle School, Ballou Senior High School and Stuart-Hobson — are looking at cuts of at least 10 percent.
“You are left to defend a budget that in many ways is indefensible,” Catania told Henderson. “The responsibility of this budget rests with the mayor.”
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who, like Catania, is considering challenging Gray in next year’s mayoral election, said the school budget is unacceptable. Wells said many of the proposed cuts would hit schools on Capitol Hill, which he represents.
“The greatest cuts have been in the schools that we’ve had the greatest challenge getting the parents of Washington D.C. to trust them,” Wells said. “I am very concerned you will not be able to convince parents to stay in DCPS at the middle school level with this budget,” Wells said.