Cluster School Parents: We need you to TAKE ACTION on Proposed Budget Cuts
Comment on this Education Article in the Washington Post>>
Also see an accounting of the situation at the end of the letter to parents below, followed by a list of DC government & education officials to contact.
A letter to the all parents at the Capitol Hill Cluster School from the Local School Advisory Team
As you may have heard, the proposed budget for School Year 2013-14 from DCPS includes budget cuts for our children’s schools. We received the budget last week and went through the formal channels of budget negotiations with central office. Those are now complete and, while we have regained a few positions from our initial allocation, we still face several shortfalls.
As all those who have experience with the Cluster and DCPS know, we have been here before. And, time and time again, with the collective efforts of our parents, we have successfully resisted these shortsighted budget proposals from central office, retaining the integrity of our schools and continually improving our children’s education. We need to do this again and let central office, our elected representatives and the mayor’s office know that we do not accept their proposed budget and insist on retaining all of the teaching positions they have deemed surplus to our requirements.
We believe these cuts to be unacceptable and want your assistance in resisting them. The LSAT team, PTA leaders and the school administration have been working to address the short fall since we received the budget. The LSAT refused to sign off on this budget allocation and has actively expressed our concerns to central office and our elected representative. Now we need your help. Having gone through the accepted channels, and won back some of the positions that were due to be cut, we are left with the following situation:
In a nutshell DCPS is proposing to redefine what is a “big” school and redirecting funds from middle schools to elementary and early-childhood schools. Clearly, we have no problem with elementary and early-childhood schools being well-funded, but we strenuously reject that their extra funding should come at the expense of our middle school, or indeed any middle school.
After the first salvo in the negotiation battle with DCPS, we are left with a situation where Stuart-Hobson is doubly hit because its enrollment comes in just under the “big” school threshold of 400 students (we currently have 380). The vast majority of the remaining proposed cuts come at Stuart, which would have to cut Spanish as a core subject, and lose its librarian, technology teacher and two special education teachers. Other cuts would come at Watkins where we are being asked to shed our resource teachers, our counselor and our teachers’ aides.
We need parents to do a few simple steps to help us fight these cuts:
1. Write to the Mayor and Chancellor Henderson to let her know that our school community is outraged by the proposed cuts. We do not expect to see our schools cut at a time when the city is gathering record revenues and $417 million in surpluses. We need a tsunami of emails AND personal calls from you to the mayor and the chancellor. Their email addresses are below. We will follow up this notice next week with detailed talking points and budget numbers that can give direction to what you say.
2. We need parents to testify on April 17 at the Education Committee budget hearing. We will fully prepare and brief all participants in advance. This is a daytime event, but we need parents to take time off work if necessary. Please contact the LSAT chair Helen Searls at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can be there.
3. Contact your own elected representative and the At-Large Council members to protest the cuts at our schools. Their email addresses are below. At Large member David Grosso, Education Committee chair David Catania and council member Tommy Wells have already been in touch to offer some advice and support. We need to urge them to do more and we need other council members to take up our case. (As of this writing, our outreach to Mayor Vincent Gray, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and the other council members have NOT responded.)
4. Please watch out for more information and emails from us on this. YOUR support is vital in ensuring that our schools’ budgets are not cut. Every other school is also battling against these cuts and while we fully support their efforts, ours need to be a loud and clear protest above everybody else’s to ensure our voices are heard.
The CHCS LSAT team
Here are some facts to use when you contact the parties listed at the end of this page:
We need to set the record straight on this.
DCPS argues that there has been a chronic decline in our enrollment. This is not true. In 2007 our enrollment was 393, in 2008 it was 399, in 2009 it was 413, in 2010 it was 428 and in 2011 it was 404.
The real story on enrollment is as follows: In 2011-12, our numbers at Stuart dropped because 5th grade moved to Watkins. We therefore had to fill an additional 135 seats at Stuart Hobson in order to bring the school up to full enrollment. As we were between principals, no priority was given to enrollment or the waitlist until July when Dawn Clemens joined our school. During July and August we called students from our waiting list to fill our seats. This was a challenge as many students had already chosen their schools by that point. However, we did manage to get our enrollment to 404. The impact of this rapid recruitment and expansion was difficult for our school. The FARM population at Stuart Hobson rose from 40% to 57.7% overnight and led to a very difficult year for teachers who were unprepared for the unexpected increase in children with many academic challenges.
This year, Stuart Hobson was fully enrolled with 410 kids by July 2012. Ironically, we then actively turned students away from our school. We did this on the advice, and with the help of, DCPS and central office. Together with DCPS we worked hard to find places at other schools for children who wanted to enroll in our school because DCPS said that we could not accommodate additional students because we were fully enrolled.
At the same time that we are turning students away, the city decided to open a charter school that recruited heavily from our neighborhoods. Exasperatingly, the city also allowed students to hold two or more publicly funded seats at the same time. We had full paper work on all of our 410 enrolled students, but unbeknown to us (and presumably DCPS since they were helping us turn children away) on the first day of the fall semester, 30 students did not show up as they had double enrolled at other schools like Basis, other charters and parochial schools which had the same rigorous academic program that we offer at Stuart Hobson. At this stage it was very difficult to refill the places because we had spent most of the summer months turning children away from our school with the active assistance of central office.
This year once again we have a very long waiting list for seats at our school. There are over 100 children on our waiting list so we know that we can fill all of our places. We know that Stuart Hobson will be fully enrolled. We plan to have 420 students enrolled in our school. And yet because our enrollment projection is below 400 we are going to be severely under resourced for this number of children. With the loss of three Spanish teachers we can no longer offer Spanish as a core subject. With each grade having 140 children in them we are now looking at dividing these grades into four classes instead of five. This will make the average classroom size 35 children. With the additional three teachers our class sizes would be able to drop to an average of 28.
As it stands, our enrollment projection will damage our children’s education and strain our teaching staff. We urge you to reconsider the enrollment projection.
We also urge you to change the enrollment process. This year’s enrollment disparity is a direct result of the lack of transparency in the enrollment process within DC public schools. With so much hanging on enrollment in these budgets, we need to demand that DCPS sort out an equitable enrollment process.
The mayor is arguing that money is being taken away from DCPS because kids are moving into charter schools. Money is therefore fungible between DCPS and the charters depending on where the kids enroll. But if money follows the kids then charter enrollment has to be held to the same standard as DCPS enrollment – meaning that parents should not be able to simultaneously hold multiple seats. Right now, our school has been hurt by the fact that kids can enroll at our school while also holding seats at charter schools. Last year we had a fully enrolled school at Stuart Hobson; we enrolled 410 students with completed forms and residency checks. However, 30 children disappeared because they opted to attend other publicly funded schools. This dipped us below the magic 400 number and had a disastrous impact on this year’s budget. Because DCPS treats charter schools differently, we discovered on the first day of school that these were not all enrollments but rather DCPS-enabled place holders.
This has to change. Within DCPS, students are only allowed to hold one seat. The same rules should apply to all publicly funded schools. If the money follows the student, enrollment has to be transparent. Public schools need to know what their enrollment really is. Once all the lotteries are completed and parents have had a chance to consider their options, it should be mandatory to make a decision by May. The only rational approach is one that allows students to hold one public place, no more. Holding multiple publicly funded places is in nobody’s interest except procrastinating parents. It hurts the students who choose schools that may have their budgets cut because they are miraculously under-enrolled on the first day of school. This is public money. We should not be held to ransom by the fact that DCPS wants to allow some parents to have their cake and eat it at the same time.
Key Council Staffers:
Do you tweet? Here are some key handles to contact:
Two relevant hashtags to follow: