Mandated expenses undercut budget increase

Zara Hall

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Wilson’s budget has increased to $20 million for the 2020 fiscal year, up $1.5 million from this school year. Yet DCPS has already designated most of the additional funds for increased security costs and mandated positions at Wilson, thereby decreasing the flexibility of spending for next school year.

The budget is based on a projected enrollment of 1,864 students, up 99 students from the current school year.

Though on the surface it seems that Wilson has much more available money than last year, “a major chunk of what looks like an increase was taken up by other expenditures,” Principal Kimberly Martin said. “Even though it looks like our budget went up to $20 million, we are actually down $178,000.”

The price of employing a teacher increased by $5,000 this year, and three expensive positions, including a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) and a school psychologist, that Martin unsuccessfully petitioned to replace with teachers, were renewed. For each petition, Martin submits a persuasive essay concerning the change she would like to make and why it would benefit students.

“I tried to do petitions to replace positions that I didn’t feel like we really needed with positions that I know we need, but all my petitions were denied,” Martin said. “I wanted to add four teachers, one in each department, English, math, social studies, and science, but the budget isn’t big enough for me to do that.”

Wilson’s budget was initially cut, but the allocated money did not reach the per-pupil expenditure of $10,000 per student. This resulted in Martin receiving $725,000 in stabilization funds, money added to the budget that can be spent at the principal’s discretion. “Without the stabilization funds, our budget actually got cut by $913,000, which is the equivalent of about eight teacher positions. So I am using the stabilization funds to bring those teachers back,” Martin said.

Wilson must pay $600,000 in security costs as a part of the budget, which was covered by Central Office in previous years. Though the cost is inconvenient, other schools such as Ballou and Anacostia have to pay up to $800,000, despite smaller total budgets.

The security costs were added, “to support greater transparency regarding the school planning and budget development process,” DCPS said in a press release. By adding security costs to school budgets, community members can view the exact allotments to security, whereas they were previously unknown. As part of this transparency, DCPS will post a snapshot of each school’s budget in the spring, showing “side-by-side the total funding that the school received and how those funds were ultimately budgeted, so that school communities can gain a clearer understanding of how each school is using their resources.”

Despite the additional expenditures this year, Martin is content with the allocations. “It seems very fair. It isn’t everything we wanted, but it is fair and workable.”

DCPS released the budget to principals on February 21, far later than usual, due to the prolonged government shutdown. Though principals are not given input on initial allotments, according to DCPS in a press release, the budget process is, “grounded in feedback from DCPS stakeholders.”

“I am proud to release budget investments that reflect what I have heard from the DCPS community – increased access to technology, investments in closing the opportunity gap, expanded early childhood education, and robust college and career readiness programming,” said DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee in a press release.

Martin is currently in the process of appealing the allocations, which must be complete by March 4 at 5 p.m., an extremely quick turnaround. The first step for Martin was technical assistance, a meeting with Central Office staff where principals can request changes in their distribution of funds and submit positions. Martin submitted seven petitions, all of which were rejected, some before she even had a conversation with the DCPS representative.

“The only change I was able to make was removing a part-time counselor, which was added by mistake,” she said.