Parents Concerned About Repeated, Unsustainable Cuts
Woodrow Wilson High School
Testimony for the Record
D.C. Council Budget Hearing Committee of the Whole
May 12, 2017
Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers:
As parents of the Wilson High School community, we write with grave concerns on the impact of the Mayor’s proposed budget on Wilson. We urge the Council to: (1) move additional funds to schools to ensure full funding for Wilson and other schools facing similar budget shortfalls; (2) ensure that any added funds go directly to schools and to those schools with the greatest needs, including Wilson; and (3) going forward, take steps to fix the broken school budgeting system.
Wilson High School is facing a third consecutive year of budgets cuts under Mayor Bowser; proposed FY 18 cuts total $1.3 million. We have heard representatives from DCPS claim that the cut to Wilson is only $340,000. That is the case in nominal dollars, but with the increased cost of teacher and staff salaries, the proposed budget leaves Wilson $1.3 million short of what it would need to avoid staff cuts in the face of stable enrollment.
Most disturbing is the notion put forward repeatedly by the Chancellor and DCPS staff, in an attempt to justify such cuts, that Wilson needs to “right size.” What that implies is that currently enrolled students should suffer and make do with less because the school is over capacity.
If the idea is that DCPS thinks the student body needs to shrink, underserving students is no way to achieve that goal. If an idea is to somehow exclude out-of-boundary or other students, we would find that very troubling. But let’s be clear, whatever “right sizing” is, it is no solution to the current situation.
Enrollment trends show no signs of Wilson’s growth abating. Cutting staff and funding to penalize an over capacity school simply penalizes our scholars. The incoming freshman class is expected to be 473 students, leaving Wilson with record enrollment for FY 18. (In spite of what Central Office predicts, the school which currently houses 1806 scholars, is likely to have 1856 next year.) This is because more and more families from the Wilson feeder area are choosing Wilson and because of continued positive growth across the area. There has been significant growth in the housing market already, and there are nearly 2,000 new units planned in the Tenley/AU area alone in the next few years.
While Wilson students come from all corners of the city and reflect a diversity that should be a point of pride for the city, the students who enter Wilson almost exclusively come from within its boundaries and feeder schools. It would be a breach of faith to deny them access to the school. If anything, Wilson needs more staff, more funding, and quite frankly more space to meet current and future demands. As the number of housing units and families in Wilson’s feeder area grows, the need for resources at Wilson grows.
If “right-sizing” is a goal, that goal should be to ensure that the staff at Wilson is the right size to fully and safely serve the students at Wilson. Three years in a row of cuts is no way to achieve that goal.
In practicality what will these cuts mean for Wilson students?
While class sizes vary greatly, it means that many students will face even larger classes in the coming year. Some Honors English and other AP classes have more than 30 students, and some close to 35. With the budget cuts, Wilson will likely lose an art teacher, raising class sizes (some art classes already have 35 students) and causing the loss of six art classes. It is worth noting that the Wilson art program has recently sent graduates to top art schools in the country, including Pratt and Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Chancellor Wilson has implied that the budget cuts will not affect Wilson’s AP program. The fact of the matter is that many AP classes at Wilson are already over capacity. Coupled with Principal Martin’s initiative to increase minority enrollment in AP classes, which we strongly support, the budget cuts are going to negatively affect scholars. Such an initiative cannot be successful if Mayor Bowser continues to cut funding to the school.
The number of college-bound students (and students who are adequately prepared for college and entrance exams) is also in jeopardy. Already, College Test Prep classes have been cut and the proposed FY 18 cuts will cause the loss of one of Wilson’s counselors. Wilson used to offer multiple sections of College Test Prep, now the school offers 1 section only, clearly inadequate for an institution that is projected to have 453 seniors next year.
The Mayor’s proposed budget cut will result in the loss of one of Wilson’s guidance counselors. In 2017, Wilson seniors submitted 3,107 applications to 540 different schools; two counselors wrote 338 recommendations for those college applications. In many cases, that involved personally contacting parents and scholars to craft recommendations that put college-bound seniors in the best possible light. It is virtually impossible for Wilson counselors to provide excellent and timely college counseling with these numbers; next year the school projects an additional 55 students who will be applying to college (and more in the pipeline for future grades). Counselors also manage the social/ emotional health of all students, handle daily crises, schedule all classes, and monitor academic progress with students and their parents. In addition, counselors are responsible for all students with 504 Plans and IEPs. Student services will suffer across the board with the loss of a counselor.
In addition to cutting an art teacher and a guidance counselor, as a result of the Mayor’s proposed cuts, Wilson will lose a social worker who is helping serve the more than 600 at-risk students the school currently enrolls. Two administrative aides that help keep the school running, an attendance counselor, and an in school suspension counselor will also be cut, making it more difficult for Wilson to assist students who may fall through the cracks and need additional support to succeed in high school.
Wilson is also not filling two special education positions, again jeopardizing assisting at risk children and students who need additional educational supports. Wilson will also lose a social studies teacher by not having the resources to fill the position of a retiring teacher, which will raise class sizes and limit offerings in the school.
Already as a result of underfunding of Wilson, the vast majority of students do not take a full course load their senior year. In fact, some seniors do not go to school for 5, 6, or 7 periods each day; in other words missing out on the bulk of a day’s school instruction. This disadvantages students who need to remain competitive for college applications by continuing a demanding course load in their senior year, but it also shortchanges students who are essentially missing out on the vast majority of a year of education.
Chancellor Wilson has talked about “right sizing” Wilson High School; the Mayor’s budget does not “right size” but takes a blunt axe to chop badly needed funds from a school that has seen multiple years of budget cuts under Mayor Bowser in the face of growing enrollment. A high-performing, high-quality school cannot continue with sustained cuts of this nature. Increased class size as a result of staffing cuts in art and social studies jeopardizes the quality of learning in the classroom and threatens Honors for All initiatives that Wilson has embarked on. And cuts to the counselor, social work, and special education positions mean less support for the students who need the most.
In closing, we thank the Council for its hard work on these difficult issues. We urge the Council to support moving additional funds to schools, including $1.3 million to Wilson to address budget shortfalls. And, we urge the Council include a mechanism to ensure that any added funds go directly to those schools, including Wilson. We hope that next year we can work with the Council to improve the budgeting process and bring transparency and engagement to a system that today is clearly broken.
Concerned Wilson Parents
Diane Ross Bock