Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called her proposed education budget for next fiscal year the “largest investment ever” for D.C. schools.
Yet many parents and teachers across the District don’t see it that way because their schools are facing possible cuts in staff, including education aides, teachers and counselors.
Last month, Bowser announced her proposal to increase the city’s education budget by $105 million. Of that, $22 million would go to traditional public schools and $83 million to public charter schools.
A little more than half of the city’s 90,000 public schoolchildren are enrolled in D.C. Public Schools, and the rest are in public charter schools.
The mayor’s plan includes more facilities funding for charters, as well as a 1.5 percent hike in per-pupil payments to all public schools. But a city task force that examines school funding in January said a 3.5 percent increase was needed.
Parents, teachers and school administrators say the mayor’s proposal falls short. Schools are facing increased personnel costs, such as benefits and salaries, which means that even if a school is projected to get more revenue, it might still have to make cuts.
On Thursday, the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education voted to add more money, raising the per-pupil spending increase to 2.38 percent. That measure now moves to the full council for a decision.
“When accounting for inflation, we are spending less on schools than we did in 2008,” said council member David Grosso (I-At Large), chairman of the committee.
Grosso and other council members received a deluge of complaints about the possibility of cuts at various schools.
“I don’t think I heard from a single school community saying they are seeing an increase of funds and saying things are going great,” council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said. “That is problematic.”
Wilson High School in Northwest is the largest comprehensive high school in the city, with more than 1,700 students. The school estimates it could lose several staff members, including several counselors who serve hundreds of students.
Charles Fishman, father of a senior and a sophomore at Wilson, said the school has lost dozens of staff members in recent years. Fishman said his children are in classrooms with more than 25 students.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are no financial problems in the city.”
Ruth Wattenberg, a member of the D.C. State Board of Education, said she, too, has grave concerns about the education budget, especially its impact on large schools.
“Schools can’t meet their needs,” she said. “When a school like Wilson is losing staff on top of everything they have lost in previous years, those are real needs.”
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson told Grosso and other council members at a recent hearing that most of the schools facing cuts, including Wilson, have projected enrollment decreases. He also said he hasn’t heard schools say they cannot meet the needs of their students.
Wilson said many people say that school improvement is tied to how much money is spent at schools. But he noted that DCPS is not meeting its academic goals, even though it has one of the largest budgets for a system of its size.
“That’s why you hear me contextualize, not because I disagree with additional spending, but I recognize that we have work to do to make sure we are maximizing the dollars that we are spending,” Wilson said.
Ballou Senior High School in Southeast faces an estimated $350,000 cut because of declining enrollment and may lose English, music and health teachers.
Other schools have larger proposed budgets than last year, but the increase would not be enough to cover growth in salary and benefit expenses. Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest, for example, could get a $67,000 increase in its budget, to $4.6 million. But because of increased personnel costs, the school is likely to cut staff, including a foreign language program, a counselor and an administrator.
Some charter schools are also facing possible cuts. Jovanda Warren is a teacher at City Arts and Prep Public Charter School in Northeast. The school is looking to cut an instructional aide and at least one administrative position. Even if the reduction seems minimal, the school will not be able to increase support to students who need it the most, Warren said.
“We are still going to strive to work our hardest to meet the needs of our students, but it is going to put an extra burden on the adults to meet those needs,” she said.