The rollout of the proposed 2012 DCPS budget has not been a happy experience for the D.C. Council, and no one is unhappier than Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5). A series of decisions by Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson has left Ward 5 with a 13 percent ($8.2 million) cut in school spending for next year, the deepest of any District ward.
“I’m not very pleased,” Thomas said at Tuesday afternoon’s budget hearing. “People are going to start asking who’s minding the store in Ward 5.”
Several factors have fueled the Ward 5 reductions. To help equalize funding across the city, Henderson elected to cut off extra support given to so-called receiving schools that took students from buildings shuttered in 2008. Ward 5 has five of them--Brookland, Browne, Burroughs, Emery and Langdon education campuses--all consolidated PS-8 schools. Phelps Architecture,Construction and Engineering High School, a gleaming new facility opened in 2008 to upgrade career and technical education in the city, has failed to meet enrollment projections and is taking a cut of nearly $500,000.
The financial crunch only adds to the frustration among parents, Thomas said, who live in the only ward without its own middle school.
Henderson promised Tuesday to take a new look at the ward’s overall situation. She committed to launching an intensive community-based review similar to the one underway in Ward 6, where revitalized elementary schools are drawing increased enrollment and the next goal is an upgrade of its middle schools: Stuart-Hobson, Eliot-Hine and Jefferson. It’s a model that Henderson wants to replicate.
“I will make a commitment that Ward 5 is the next one,” she said.
Henderson said that she would bring all stakeholders “not just the usual suspects” to the table to discuss Ward 5 school issues. That means looking the possibilities for a middle school and abandonment of the PS-8 model, established by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as a way of retaining families after elementary school. But it’s proven unpopular with some parents.
Henderson also tried Tuesday, “to bring clarity” to the notoriously unclear FY 2012 budget. Armed with a new 25-page powerpoint, Henderson tried to walk the council through some of what she described as misunderstandings.
The 2012 budget seems to show a $77 million increase in total funding over FY 2011: from $749.8 million to $826.9 million. But Henderson said the numbers for 2011 have changed over the course of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, making the data in the budget book “a-point-in-time analysis” rather than an authoritative fiscal record. Among the major additions was $31 million to special education funding and another $39 million in private grants to support the Washington Teachers’ Union contract. The actual 2011 budget $823.2 million, which shrivels the increase for 2012 to $3.7 million.
While a reading of the budget suggests a big boost in central office spending and personnel, Henderson said outlays will actually decline by $3.5 million in 2012, including a reduction of 66 positions. One source of confusion, she said, is inaccurate data from past budget years. DCPS was one of the last agencies to switch to the new PeopleSoft management system. That was in 2009.
“Prior to that,” the powerpoint said, “DCPS did not effectively maintain position control over budget staff appropriately.”
Which is a polite way of saying it had no idea how many people were on the payroll.
While the switch to PeopleSoft took place two years ago, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi’s office did not finish its “clean up” of DCPS data in time to fix the 2011 numbers, Henderson’s powerpoint contends.
It means that while the 2012 numbers are good, “reliable comparable data for FY 2011 is not available.” And that makes a whole series of numbers in the budget document as it stands misleading or inaccurate, including line items that show cuts in special education and early childhood. Both the areas will get more money in 2012.