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Government and People
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Good Morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. I am Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify this morning to give you an update on the reform efforts underway in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and to discuss the DCPS portion of the District's fiscal year 1999 budget.
I joined General Becton in the Washington, D.C., schools last September and became Superintendent on May 1. When I arrived, we set a clear goal for the district: we said the District of Columbia's public schools would be exemplary. We knew it would not be easy, but I have spent time in school districts that work and I know what we must do to succeed. And I've brought on senior staff who share that experience and that vision. In the ten months since I came here, we have made real, tangible progress towards that goal. I am pleased to report good news on several fronts:
We recently received our Spring 1998 scores on the Stanford 9 Achievement Test, and our students showed solid progress in both reading and math between last spring and this spring. (A copy of the test scores is attached to my written statement).
We put a singular focus on improving student achievement, with intensive reading instruction, before- and after-school tutoring and Saturday academies, clearly defined academic standards and special instructional materials, and targeted professional development for school staff. We told students, parents, aunts, uncles and neighbors, as well as teachers, principals, administrators, and members of the business and faith communities, that we all have a role to play in helping our students succeed.
Finally, we built accountability into the system, by establishing promotion guidelines for students and telling them they would not be promoted to the next grade without first achieving grade-appropriate skills and by revising our principal evaluation system to make student achievement fifty percent of a principal's annual performance rating.
And we got results we made gains in every grade where students were tested in both Spring 1997 and Spring 1998. We saw fewer students scoring in the below basic range and more students at both basic and proficient. Clearly, we are moving in the right direction.
Now we are putting in place the necessary programs to ensure that we continue to see improvements in student achievement. Next week, we will launch the largest summer school program in this districts history. We are planning for up to 20,000 students, some who will participate because, under the new promotion guidelines, they will not be promoted if they don't and others because they know, or their parents know, that this is a valuable opportunity to strengthen skills that are critical to success at school. Eighty of our 146 schools will be open for summer school from June 29 through August 7.
The program will be focused on the basics two hours, of reading and two hours of math every day. Instruction will be highly structured, with scripted lessons provided to every teacher for every class period, so we can expect uniform program quality across, the district. Class sizes will be very small (1 teacher and 1 aide per 15 students for reading; 1 teacher per 15 students for math). In addition, we have included funds in our FY99 budget for professional development for teachers and administrators to support additional improvements in instruction in our schools. Finally, we've included additional staff in the FY99 staffing formula for schools that continue to show low performance.
Before I discuss the budget, I want to mention one more piece of good news. Over the years, there have been serious questions about the credibility of the school systems enrollment count. As you may know, the General Accounting Office did a study of our enrollment process in 1997 and pointed out weaknesses in a number of areas. In response to the study, we made changes to our process last year to ensure that we could provide Congress and the Control Board with a credible number. That number 77,111 was audited by an independent auditor (as required by federal law) and the auditors found that our count was fairly stated. In fact, while their estimate was within 1% of our official enrollment, their number was actually higher than ours.
In order to address the issue that non-residents may be attending our schools, we also substantially strengthened our rules for establishing District residency this spring. A letter has been sent to all DCPS parents explaining the requirements of the new rule and an early enrollment period has been scheduled in August to give parents the opportunity to present the necessary documents to prove that their children are DC residents. Over the summer, we will work with the news media, churches, social service organizations, recreation centers, libraries and others to make sure parents know about the new rule.
Now Im going to talk with you about DCPS FY99 budget. I recognize that you also may have questions about the FY98 deficit, but since my time is limited I would like to focus on FY99. A detailed explanation of the steps we are taking to close the FY98 deficit is attached to my statement.
The Citys consensus budget includes $545 million in local funds for the District of Columbia Public Schools. This funding level represents an increase of $85 million from last years congressional-approved funding level of $460 million.
The majority of the increase is required to fund either increases in the scope of services DCPS must provide or court-mandated or otherwise legally required budget increases. Special education is our largest budget driver. The budget for special education was substantially increased to cover the growing costs of private school tuition, related service payments to private schools, and transportation costs resulting from the Mills Decree and orders of the Special Master in the Petties case. In this area, we budgeted for an increase of almost $44 million over last years budgeted level; however, spending could be even higher if our current special education enrollment projections are borne out.
DCPS has undertaken a major effort to reform our special education program. We have entered into a comprehensive compliance agreement with the Department of Education, and we are restructuring our infrastructure to support more timely assessment and placement of students. We will also focus on expanding special education programs within the district. However, we also believe that legislative relief is needed to extend the timeframe for assessing and placing children in special education under the Mills Decree. As Chairman Cropp mentioned here last week, the City Council has endorsed our proposal to extend the timeline from 50 calendar days to 120 calendar days (to achieve parity with the surrounding jurisdictions); I am hopeful that Congress will include legislative language to this effect in this year's DC appropriations bill.
Other legally required spending increases reflected in our FY99 budget include: water and sewer charges previously paid by the City, rent increases, back pay for DCPS employees who are members of the Teamster's union, and step increases required by collective bargaining agreements. These requirements total almost $12 million.
The remaining spending increases which total only about $17 million are necessary to the DCPS reform effort. We intend to spend $4 million to increase DCPS starting salaries to $30,000 per year, so that we can compete with the surrounding jurisdictions for the best new teachers. Today, DCPS starting salary for teachers is near the bottom in the region. As a result, we have had severe difficulty recruiting new teacher and are placed at a competitive disadvantage in reaching the most talented candidates. As a large number of our teachers reach retirement age in the next several years, we expect this problem to become more serious if we do not takes steps now to address it. We also intend to invest $3 million in professional development. As we increase the demands we are making on our employees, we must provide them with adequate training to meet these goals.
We have included $8 million for next years Summer STARS program in our FY99 budget, because we know that there are no quick fixes in education and that many of our students will need intensive instruction during the summer months for several years to reach the performance levels we have set for them. In fact, I would like to establish a number of year-round schools in our community in the not-too distant future. I have personal experience with year-round schools and am a firm believer in their merit. Finally, we are investing an additional $2.5 million in textbooks in FY99, to address the chronic problem of outdated texts in our classrooms.
In order to put DCPS budget in perspective, I asked our budget office to break down the systems spending in the following functional areas: instruction, instructional support, non- instructional support, building administration, and central administration, and to look at the shift in spending in these areas between FY98 and FY99. I also asked them to compare our budget to the Seattle Public Schools budget. The analysis showed that DCPS spending on instruction will increase, while the percentage of funds used for central administration will decrease (from 4.2% to 3.3%), between FY98 and FY99. It also showed that we will spend a greater portion of our budget on instruction than they did in Seattle, and a substantially smaller amount (about half as much) on central administration.
I know there is a strong belief that DCPS has a bloated central bureaucracy. I want you to know that the reduction-in-force implemented in May reduced central administration by about 25%. To dose the budget deficit, we also have released about 400 school custodians and other non-classroom based school personnel, and we expect to eliminate an additional 200 positions over the summer. In my view, while DCPS central office may once have been overstaffed, that is no longer the case.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, we have a clear vision and mission for the District of Columbia Public Schools and we are making steady progress toward toward that goal. We know it wont happen overnight, but, by instituting clear standards for performance and implementing accountability systems for both school system employees and students, we have begun moving toward results. We have a long road ahead but I firmly believe that, one step at a time, school by school, and classroom by classroom, we will reach our targets.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared statement. I am happy to respond to questions.
District of Columbia Public Schools
District of Columbia Public Schools
*Grades that were not tested in Spring 1997
District of Columbia Public Schools
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