The Washington Post

Mayor Gray: DCPS budget cuts due in part to lower-than-expected enrollment

D.C. schools are slated to receive more money per pupil next year under Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposed budget. So why are parents at some traditional schools sounding alarms about cuts to staff positions and programs?

The squeeze comes from the school system’s failure to meet enrollment projections, according to Gray (D).

Officials built D.C. Public Schools’s current budget on the assumption that 47,174 students would enroll this year. But only 45,557 children actually showed up, according to the fall enrollment audit, so officials scaled back expectations. Next year’s enrollment projection: 46,060 students.

That decline means a loss of at least $14.5 million in local funds, according to the mayor’s budget documents, or as much as $25 million, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute analysis that accounts for the effects of inflation and supplemental spending expected this year.

“Even though we’re seeing enrollment increases in the D.C. Public Schools, they have not matched the projections that our budget has been based on,” Gray said at a D.C. Council hearing Monday, arguing that he felt an “obligation” to project a more realistic number for next year.

Enrollment is not the only reason traditional schools are facing shortfalls. They also are feeling the effects of the chancellor’s decision define more schools as “small schools.”

Previously, a school was small if it had fewer than 300 students; now, the bar has been raised to 400. Small schools receive fewer staff in some categories — a half-time instead of full-time librarian, for example.

Stuart-Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill will have to cut Spanish as a core subject, according to parents organizing to resist the reductions. The school also stands to lose a librarian, technology teacher and two special education teachers.

“We believe these cuts to be unacceptable and want your assistance in resisting them,” advocates wrote in a letter to parents.

The school’s enrollment this year is 371 — nearly 50 students short of projections, according to budget documents. Next year’s enrollment is projected at 375 students — which translates into a loss of about $500,000 in the school’s budget.

Council Member David Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the education committee, said more than a dozen schools in addition to Stuart-Hobson are facing net budget reductions next year. Catania argued that such school-level cuts are shortsighted and threaten to exacerbate the enrollment problem by driving away frustrated parents.

“If and when we are serious about stabilizing DCPS, we need a plan,” Catania said. “And that plan is not this budget.”

Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed DCPS budget at a council hearing April 17. Chancellor Kaya Henderson will testify at a hearing on May 2.

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

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