Jonetta Rose Barras: Bad faith in D.C.

By |
Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras,Vincent Gray,David Catania

It would be perfectly understandable if families enrolled in DC Public Schools left en masse. Within the past year, they have been locked out of important decisions regarding the future of the system, made to jump through a series of unnecessary hoops and deliberately lied to.

When Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Chancellor Kaya Henderson decided more than a dozen schools needed to be closed, they told parents they would hold community meetings and incorporate their concerns in any final decisions. Most of the schools on the list remained slated for closure after those so-called dialogues.

Parents also were promised the closures would allow DCPS to enhance academic programs and provide additional resources, including music and art instructors along with full-time librarians, for which they had lobbied, signed petitions and pleaded.

But a review of the 2014 budget proposal offers evidence that the mayor and Henderson are reneging on those commitments. Further, a change in the definition of small schools from 299 to 400, which came without any warning, not only doesn't provide additional resources, it snatches some away from facilities that may have had them this year.

The DCPS' proposed 2014 budget is nearly $819 million -- almost $7 million more than its current budget. So why can't it fund full-time librarians and art instructors at every school along with expansion of foreign language programs?

Why weren't parents told, in advance, about changing the definition of small schools and the potentially negative consequences of such action? Did Henderson deliberately misrepresent her intentions about academic enhancements, particularly to parents east of the Anacostia River?

Henderson didn't respond to multiple requests to answers those questions. DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz claimed there wasn't sufficient time -- although the changes already have been incorporated into the budget.

The indisputable degradation of academic programs in traditional public schools under the guise of reform is troubling. Equally disturbing is the cavalier way Gray and Henderson have treated parents and other District taxpayers advocating for quality education for the city's children.

The D.C. Council's Committee on Education, chaired by David Catania, will begin public hearings Wednesday on the school system's 2014 budget. He already has raised his own concerns about cuts to anti-truancy programs, reduction in nonpublic tuition for special education students, planned construction of megabuildings without surety of increased enrollment and reductions in key academic programs, particularly in low-income communities. "I don't think we're making these schools better," Catania said.

He has suggested he will push to secure funding for full-time librarians in public schools. Despite the ramp-up of neighborhood libraries' services and hours, some children live far from such facilities and can rely on only what their schools provide.

Catania has suggested other important remedial action: A special "stabilization fund" could be created that would bring additional resources to low-performing schools in poor communities. Further, the city also may need to change the per-pupil funding formula.

"We need a weighted formula to make a system that is fair," Catania said. "This system is not fair."

Jonetta Rose Barras can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

View article comments Leave a comment