The Wilson Beacon

Parents and students express frustration at division of DCPS budget

Asher Friedman-Rosen and Max Karp

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After raising the budget for schools across the District, DCPS is facing backlash from parents and teachers in response to the persistence of high staff cuts. Those protesting believe that because teachers are being cut an abnormally high rate despite increased funding, extra money is unjustly going to Central Office.

Parents and students alike throughout the school system have voiced their concerns, pushing for more money directly benefiting schools and teachers rather than the Central Office. These concerns have evolved into discontent from local parents and residents who are demanding increased funding for schools rather than central leadership.

Local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) representative and Wilson parent Jonathan McHugh has been on the forefront of the budgeting issues within DCPS, specifically the reasoning behind the breakdown of the DCPS budget. “I think DCPS budgeting is still driven by political concerns rather than logical and transparent decisions that should relate to what benefits students most,” he said.

“I am aware–I’ve been one of those protesting. I’ve testified at Council education hearings as well as meeting with individual councilmembers,” McHugh remarked when asked about his involvement with the recent backlash regarding budgeting issues.

McHugh’s views reflect the concerns of other parents and students in DCPS. According to McHugh, while independent sources did not have this data, Wilson became the DCPS high school with the lowest funding per student while having the largest presence of at-risk students. A report by DCPS in the 2014-2015 school year suggested Wilson was closer to the upper middle.

The term “at-risk” is generally used to describe students who have a higher probability than others of failing or dropping out of school. The presence of at-risk students typically requires more funding in order to adequately provide for students who may not have the resources that they need at home and in other places, such as full meals and classroom materials.

Wilson, along with other DC school budgets, is often displayed and calculated by observers using a  “Uniform Per Student Funding Formula,” which is created by dividing the total budget by the number of students. Vexingly, Wilson’s enrollment will increase 8% next school year, but the per student funding is only increasing 7.6 percent. The same figure shows that Coolidge HS, who’s enrollment next year is projected to drop 28.2% yet its per student funding increased by 66.8 percent. This process makes it difficult to understand the rationale of budget appropriation to DC schools.    

McHugh, given these issues, recommended that the school system institute a new form of leadership to resolve conflicts like these. “I believe that the only way that this situation will improve is a change in how DCPS is governed,” McHugh added.

Wilson English teacher Joseph Welch echoed McHugh’s thoughts. “My solutions would be to take some power away from the mayor’s office… and have an independent school board that actually has power–right now it’s just ceremonial.” said Welch.

Both McHugh and Welch felt that to resolve the budgeting issues, it is necessary to restructure the governing system that operates around DCPS. Currently, Mayor Bowser has primary control over over DCPS actions, and unlike most public school systems, there is little external regulation from groups such as the school board. McHugh and Welch both feel that the first step in sorting out DCPS problems is implementing a school board that has influence over actions.

McHugh and Welch believe that something needs to be addressed given the current state of DCPS’ budgeting practices. As McHugh puts it, “It’s all about the Central Office, when it should be about autonomy for those on the front line of DC education: the teachers and staff.”

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The Student News Site of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School
Parents and students express frustration at division of DCPS budget