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Parents Rally Against Budget Cuts


BY CLAIRE PARKER, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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Concerned parents prepared to battle recently-announced cuts to Wilson’s 2015-2016 budget at a meeting organized by the PTSO and LSAT on Wednesday evening.

The cuts, announced last month, will reduce Wilson’s budget by a total of $1.8 million, as per pupil funding is cut by 10 percent and Wilson’s population is projected to increase to over 1850 students next year. Principal Gregory Bargeman has said that class sizes will certainly increase, 14 staff members will need to be laid off, and funding for extracurricular activities may be in jeopardy.

PTSO president Kim Bayliss and LSAT chair Jeffrey Kovar convened the April 2 meeting to hear parents’ concerns, answer their questions, and galvanize them to protest DCPS’ budget decision. At the meeting, Bargeman told parents, “Your job is to help create more funds for us to work with.”

Bayliss said that so far, the DC government has not been very sympathetic to her efforts to get decision reversed. However, the PTSO has been working closely with Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh, who sent an impassioned letter to Chancellor Kaya Henderson opposing the budget cuts and urging Henderson to reconsider.

The reasons behind the budget cuts are complex and muddled, but the issue of funding for at-risk students came up many times during the meeting. According to Cheh, who made an appearance at the meeting, DCPS is asserting that Wilson was over-funded for at-risk students this year, and that is part of the reason Wilson’s budget was decreased for next year. “That is simply not true,” Cheh said to parents. “It’s just false. Don’t go for it.”

Cheh said that in reality, Wilson was significantly underfunded this year, and DCPS’ motivation for claiming otherwise was to justify taking money from Wilson and spreading it out elsewhere. She says this move will backfire. “If DCPS decides to starve Wilson, then what it’s doing is hurting everything we’ve been doing over the past years, which is creating confidence in Wilson and the whole system,” Cheh said.

Bayliss said that parents must fight the perception she sees being perpetuated by DCPS that Wilson is only benefitting Ward 3. In reality, she explained, 44 percent of students come from outside of Wards 3 and 4, and Wilson has one of the largest populations of at-risk students (582 this year) of any DC high school.

Cheh told parents that the DC Council cannot change school allocations, and after arming parents with a handout containing talking points, urged them to inundate Henderson’s and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s inboxes with emails. Cheh made it clear that from her perspective, convincing Henderson and Bowser to change their decision would not be easy. “From my sense of where we are now, it’s going to be an uphill battle,” she said.

Bayliss said the PTSO and LSAT are planning to testify at an April 23 Council hearing, and are seeking Wilson parents from all eight wards of the city to testify as well. The PTSO is also urging parents to propose resolutions to their Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) and write editorials for local news outlets condemning the budget cuts. Local education activist and former Wilson parent Matthew Frumin pointed out that the special election for Ward 4 councilmember is coming up later this month, and Frumin told Ward 4 parents in attendance to make Wilson’s budget problems a critical issue in the election. And one mother suggested that students join the effort by taking to Twitter.

“Just push for the money,” Bayliss told parents. “I don’t really care how we get it.”

 

GRAPHIC BY SARAH TORRESON, VISUAL CONTENT EDITOR