Around this time each year, District public school principals work in coordination with their Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) to propose adjustments to budget proposals made by DC Public Schools (DCPS) central office.
While some LSAT members have often lamented not having enough time to respond, this year’s budget process has become even more controversial due to the central office’s refusal to meet a deadline D.C. Council legislation set for DCPS to reveal the dollar amount allocated to each District public school.
For some parents, like Tiffany L. Brown, this latest development calls into question the mayor’s competency.
Brown, a parent of two District public school students and DCPS teacher, has previous experience navigating the budget process as an LSAT member at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan in Northeast.
These days, she’s far away from the process. Even so, she continues to raise concerns about how delays could affect parents’ abilities to secure resources for their children’s school.
“Not seeing the budget doesn’t give parents and parent groups the opportunity to advocate for what’s needed through LSAT petitioning,” Brown said. “The mayor isn’t new to this. This is her ninth year running the schools and going through the budget process. It should be seamless, but it’s not.”
On Monday, the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole conducted a roundtable about DCPS’ FY 2024 budget. The roundtable came days after DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee failed to meet the Feb. 9 budget submission deadline mandated by the Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act.
The Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act, which the D.C. Council passed last year, requires DCPS central office to allocate to each District public school a dollar amount no less than what they received in the previous year’s budget.
This year, the budget amount awarded to each school would have to include the funds agreed upon the recently ratified Washington Teachers’ Union contract.
However, DCPS released its budget projections for each District public school on Feb. 15, not long before schools close for February break.
Much to the chagrin of teachers, parents and some elected officials, budget projections for some schools fell below the amount disbursed for this fiscal year. With two weeks, which some feel is not enough time for LSAT budget meetings, many community members feel their schools might get the short end of the stick — once again.
On a Wednesday afternoon phone call with reporters, Ferebee said that the central office aimed to ensure that all public schools received at least 95 percent of their current funding amount.
The budget projections for FY2024, Ferebee noted, didn’t include the WTU contract allocations. He said that more details about the funding sources for Teachers’ salary will come within the next couple of weeks.
In response to concerns about budget declines, Ferebee made note of the five percent increase in per-pupil funding recently announced by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). He also said that additional dollars would be allocated to at-risk students and schools with a sizable at-risk population.
“When we look at schools the year before, we have to consider what they received with and without one-time funding,” Ferebee said. “We knew that the funding wouldn’t be in perpetuity. We see about 20 schools with less than they had before. Declines [in funding] are tied to declining enrollment or programmatic changes.”
During Monday’s D.C. Council roundtable, Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn echoed these points while sitting next to Ferebee.
“The DCPS budget model doesn’t take the school as the starting point,” Kihn told Mendelson on Monday, Feb. 13. “At the level of the school, it may make sense with a static population, but we have a network with 127 schools with 3,000 students that came out of grade level in schools that lost students. It’s hard to find because now we have phantom students,” Kihn added
“To find that money, we have to take it from some other school. If you can’t find the money to fund these empty seats, where do you take it? The questions you ask assume that classes are full.”
Mendelson didn’t find Kihn’s point a roadblock in DCPS following the law. Throughout Monday’s roundtable, the D.C. Council chairman drove home the point that all the DCPS central office needed to submit were projection figures.
D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) found some success in getting Ferebee’s assurance that the DCPS central office will meet the budget projection submission deadline next year. Even so, Parker expressed concerns that funds are often being spread too thinly across District public schools, much to the detriment of families living in Wards 5, 7 and 8.
That’s why Parker suggested that federal funds fill in any possible gaps.
More importantly, Parker expressed a desire to take this budget battle to the streets. Doing so, he told The Informer, means educating residents about DCPS’ failure to follow the Schools First in Budgeting Act and emboldening them to pressure Ferebee, Kihn and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to be more transparent about the budget process.
Otherwise, Parker said, District education officials will continue to provide a narrative that’s vastly different from what parents, teachers and students often experience on the ground.
“It’s unacceptable [DCPS central office] won’t do the approach that’s the law. They’re authorizing contracts without council approval,” Parker said as he alluded to retroactive contracts DCPS entered with food vendor, Sodexo. “I’m most interested in how to bring DCPS in accordance with the law. We can’t have one leader doing what they want.”