Parents at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School who will negotiate with Superintendent Clifford B. Janey on giving the Northwest Washington school more autonomy said yesterday that they hope the talks ultimately will result in more self-determination for all 147 schools in the system.
Janey and Wilson officials last night announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to negotiate during the next year on giving the school more authority over its budget, curriculum, building repairs and staff hiring.
In exchange for Janey's commitment to begin those talks, Wilson leaders agreed to delay for a year any decision to leave the school system and become an independent charter school. They began studying that idea a year ago, frustrated by the central office's imposition of budget cuts and its slow response to their numerous requests for building repairs.
Parents who will be involved in the talks said they expect to focus not only on Wilson, but also on how to increase funding for all high schools and give all schools more authority on how to spend that money.
Wilson now receives only about 64 percent of its budget allocation. The rest remains with the central office to cover the cost of the services that the headquarters provides to the school, including security, human resources, procurement and maintenance.
Members of Wilson's local school restructuring team, which helps govern the school, want Janey to adopt a model used by the public school system in Edmonton, Canada. There, schools keep more than 95 percent of their budget allocation and decide whether to use administrative services from the central office or from outside sources.
The memorandum signed by Janey and Wilson leaders says the superintendent and his staff "are eager to provide greater resources and autonomy to well-operated, successful schools which demonstrate the responsible and effective use of resources and authority."
In a statement released yesterday, Janey called the new relationship he is exploring with Wilson leaders "an incentive for showing substantial academic progress" and said it may help other schools receive more resources to serve underperforming students.
A D.C. schools spokeswoman said yesterday that Janey was not available to comment further.
In a move unrelated to the Wilson situation, Janey several months ago appointed a task force to look at possible changes in school funding policies. The panel has been studying several models, including the Edmonton approach.
Task force member Mary Levy said the Wilson negotiations could add momentum to efforts to make funding more equitable.
"The school system has talked about school-based management for years. Wilson can be a laboratory to put it into the context of real immediate concerns," said Levy, who is director of the Public Education Reform Project for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Parents and officials at Wilson, the largest and highest-performing of the city's comprehensive public high schools, say that the funding formula hurts them in several ways. Although high schools have a larger per-pupil allocation than other schools, they do not get to keep as much of their allocation as do elementary schools.
Moreover, Wilson leaders say, schools that are losing students receive supplemental funds to reduce the number of staff cuts they have to make -- a practice that penalizes schools as large as Wilson, which enrolls 1,500 students. "Larger schools end up subsidizing smaller schools," said Marlene Berlin, co-chairman of the local school restructuring team.
School board member Victor A. Reinoso of District 2, which includes Wilson, said he supports giving schools more authority over their budget but not to the extent done in Edmonton. He added that the system would have to establish uniform standards for how schools would qualify for more autonomy.
"We need to look at graduation rate, student attendance and academic proficiency. These high standards should be reflected across every subgroup," he said.
Iris Toyer, co-chairman of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, said she would feel uncomfortable giving many schools more autonomy. "As a taxpayer, I'd have to have confidence that we'd turn this over to people competent in finance," she said. "I'm not confident it could be managed without a tremendous amount of oversight."