I am David Grosso, the Chairman of the Committee on Education. Today, we are gathered for part one of the FY16 budget oversight hearing for DC Public Schools.
Across 111 schools, DCPS currently serves over 47,500 public school students. Next year, the system is projecting enrollment increases and after a couple of rounds of school closures will be opening new campuses. However, as many of you already know, for the most part, budgets across the District of Columbia government this year remained flat or experienced cuts.
My staff and I have been engaged and working with DCPS for many weeks now with regard to their budget. I have said this before and I will say it again for the record, when it comes to the operating budget, I am not in favor of taking money from one school’s budget to provide for another school. I am also unwilling to move money around without working closely with the Chancellor to be certain that she is supportive of the move. Therefore, we are working with DCPS to address the few issues that have arisen by finding internal savings elsewhere.
In terms of the capital budget, many of you may recall that during the performance oversight hearing, the Chancellor and I discussed establishing objective business rules with regard to school modernizations—that was supposed to take place over the course of this year and be implemented for FY17. Then I saw the budget, heard the reasoning—needing to fulfill reprogramming promises—but I can’t in good conscience urge my colleagues to pass this capital budget as is. Not only are there certain projects that have become too costly and in a sense are out of control, but I am also deeply concerned about equity in capital spending.
When the capital modernization process started in earnest in 2008, the Master Facilities Plan was designed to prioritize improvements that will enhance the learning environment, improve student performance, and advance educational outcomes within 5 years rather than pursuing more capital-intensive building programs that could require more than a decade for all schools to be addressed. The public was told that every school’s academic components would be modernized in 5 years. That promise has not been kept.
There are still 26 schools in the District of Columbia that have not been touched. The majority are elementary schools and the majority of those are East of the River. I am working with my colleagues, DCPS, DGS, and the DME to try to come up with a plan that makes sense — and looks at objective factors like enrollment, building condition, building utilization, and data from the Office of Planning about population growth. But also it is important for us all to recognize that there are constraints around funding and realistic timelines for completing projects. One thing I can assure you is that as we move forward with this process I will not be doing it in bubble by myself. I am meaningfully engaging the Deputy Mayor, the Chancellor, the Director of DGS and others to make sure that whatever plan we produce in this committee is something that we can all support and we can stop making promises that are impossible to fulfill.