Wilson loses over $170,000

Chloe Fatsis and Max Karp

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Wilson is scrambling to make up for more than $170,000 in funding after losing access to an account that for years collected money from renting out the school’s field, gymnasiums, and auditorium.

The funding shortfall will affect everything from club sports teams to classroom supplies to building repairs. In response to the cuts, parents and students are rushing to raise money, while the administration is limiting the use of certain supplies, like paper. 

Principal Kimberly Martin said she is worried about the lack of funds. “People should have a lot less confidence that we’ll be able to do the things that we used to be able to do,” Martin said. “It has the potential to be a firestorm.”

However, Martin is hopeful that legislation written by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh will help DC public schools gain access to field rental money. “We might already have a solution in hand,” Martin said.

This issue dates back more than a decade. In 2005, a group of parents and staff formed the Wilson Management Corporation (WMC) to secure a renovation for the building and handle funds from renting the school’s facilities. After the renovation was completed in 2011, with a new field, auditorium, and two gyms, demand for Wilson’s spaces increased, so the WMC was able to generate more money.

Usually, the funds from renting DC public schools’ facilities go to the Department of General Services, an organization that manages building maintenance and upkeep. However, the WMC reached an agreement with DCPS that the money from renting its facilities would go into a separate bank account to fund supplies, projects, and activities around the school. Later, Wilson administration and DCPS decided to instead put that money into a Student Activity Fund (SAF). The school brought in between $170,000 and $220,000 each year from renting its facilities.

But in October of 2018, the DC government Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audited Wilson and determined that the school could no longer use the SAF. “They gave us a hard stop that we needed to stop using the SAF account,” Martin said. “[Now] the money that comes from our facilities has to go DGS, which is what other schools have to do.”

The purpose of the audit was “to assess schools’ compliance with SAF policies and procedures established by DCPS and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer,” according to its announcement letter. The audit will not be released publicly until the end of September at the earliest, said Jaime Yarussi, the OIG’s Deputy Inspector General for Business Management. He declined to comment on the subject until its release.

Matt Frumin, the former chair of the WMC, said that Wilson never went against the agreement with DCPS. 

“DCPS changed its mind about what it was comfortable with and they are entitled to change their mind about what they were comfortable with,” he said. “But Wilson never did anything rogue. Wilson always operated based on clear agreements with DCPS about how to proceed.”

The change in how Wilson can manage its funds will have serious implications for many extracurricular activities, namely club sports. “The onus for running these clubs will move from the school or from the District or from their facilities funds and will now rest more on students and parents to raise the money,” Martin said. Because of this, many club sports have started booster clubs through Wilson Tiger Athletics (WTA) to raise money. Varsity sports continue to receive funding through the DCIAA.

Ultimate Frisbee is one of the teams affected by the loss of funding. In the past, they received between $2,000 and $3,000 from the SAF. Dave Ohls, the coach of the Frisbee team, said the team will have “more fundraisers, higher team dues… and [is] looking for areas we can cut costs.” However, he emphasized that “we are dedicated to finding a way to cover costs for all players with financial need.”

In response to the change in funding, Cheh introduced a bill with the goal of giving money from facility rentals back to schools. The bill was introduced in October 2018 and subsequently passed; it will go into effect at the beginning of the 2019-20 fiscal year, on October 1.

A stipulation in the bill added that if organizations can “demonstrate financial hardship,” they are exempt from the rental fee normally assigned to facility renters. The bill does not define how a nonprofit organization must prove financial hardship to gain status. 

Frumin does not think that the fee-waiving for organizations facing financial hardship will be a big issue for schools trying to bring in money, so long as “financial hardship” is clearly outlined. “I would hope they would apply it in a context where there really is a financial hardship, not one where you have groups that people are paying fees to join and that are operating at surpluses,” he said. “If you have a group that is serving a very low income population and is operating with a very limited budget… then waive the fees.”

To try to make sure that the stipulation about financial hardship will not hinder schools’ ability to generate revenue from facility rentals, Frumin, WTA member Jonathan McHugh, and other individuals are forming a working group with involved DC government organizations. The group will address other parts of the legislation and work to ensure that schools benefit from the bill.

Director of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall said that the school had to decide how to allocate funding for internal resources after the loss in funding stream.

“That budget cut affected a lot of the resources and supplies that we are normally given each year to provide for teachers and students throughout the school,” Hall said. “We prioritized what goods and services were most important, and paper was one of those things we decided to cut back on.” 

Social studies teacher Jennifer Brown has already used a large amount of her allotted paper. “It’s a little stressful at times trying to figure out how I can do things without paper,” Brown said. Teachers are being provided 10 reams of paper until the month of December, when they will be given a new supply.

Despite the short-term chaos that the funding cut has caused, both Frumin and McHugh believe that Cheh’s legislation will help all DC public schools schools, not just Wilson. “It’ll be equitable for all the schools to benefit from the system that really benefited Wilson when it was in place,” McHugh said. •