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Resources Focus of New DCPS Budget

Dorothy Rowley | 3/26/2014, 3 p.m.
A key point of D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s 2014-15 budget calls for ensuring that all elementary students have access to weekly art, music, physical education, foreign language and regular library services. (Courtesy photo)

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson will use nearly half of $116 million earmarked for school investment projects, to focus on improving middle schools, raise achievement levels at 40 of the lowest-performing schools, and increase student satisfaction.

Overall, the school system has been allotted more than $700 million for school operations next year, which equates to an 8.5 percent increase over the current school term.

“This is a major step forward for everyone, everywhere in DCPS and in this city,” said Henderson, 44. “I feel so lucky to have the resources we need to deliver to our families everywhere in this city, the kind of education that all of our students deserve. We still have work to do, but this budget takes us to a very different place for our students, our teachers and our families.”

DCPS, which has been in reform mode for the past few years, has an enrollment of about 45,000 students and is expected to accommodate 1,200 more in 2014-15.

To get the new budget process underway last month, Henderson began earlier than usual, holding a series of meetings with administrators, teachers and parents to craft the best possible expenditure guidelines.

With that behind her, Henderson is ready to move forward, using $5 million for the “Proving What’s Possible (PWP) for Students Satisfaction,” initiative – an extension of a program launched in 2012 – that will help school leaders and their teams create or expand programs to get students excited about school.

Henderson said in announcing the project last month, that while a 2013 poll revealed 78 percent of District students liked their schools, her goal is to boost those responses to 90 percent by 2017.

Henderson also has plans to use her new budget to continually focus on other prevailing issues that include the redrawing of school boundaries and addressing graduation and truancy rates.

To that end, she’s moving forward with the Extended Day Program, which now involves nine of DCPS’ lowest-performing schools.

With several more schools tapped to extend their day next year, Henderson noted the additional attention that’s already been placed on reading and mathematics among students at schools with longer days. At those buildings, students’ math scores increased by 10.6 percent and 7.2 percent in reading on standardized tests administered in 2013.

Other significant points of Henderson’s Fiscal Year ’15 budget surround investments at elementary schools to ensure that all students receive weekly art, music, physical education, foreign language and regular library services. Budget considerations also allude to establishment of a STEM academy at Woodson High School in Northwest, investing in a plan to reopen Spingarn High School and the creation of a selective middle school east of the river.

Ward 5 activist Kathy Henderson, who’s hopeful of representing her community on the D.C. Council, said that while she’s happy with the chancellor’s focus on extended-day programs, she’d like to see more emphasis placed on the educational needs of older students who’ve been forced to attend evening classes.

“We need resources to support those students, because in many cases most are still minors who have been tossed from school because of low performance,” said Henderson, 54. “The school system has a horrible policy that needs to be changed to a more child-focused plan.”

Libbie Buchele, who lives in Ward 1 and has a child who attends Bancroft Elementary School, added there’s definite need for aftercare programs.

“We’re pretty happy with our school and its programs,” Buchele said. “But our main concern would be cuts in the aftercare program, which needs to be more fully enriched.”

Buchele said that although she wasn’t sure if Bancroft’s budget for next year would significantly increase, if the last few years have been any indication, it will probably remain the same.

“The budgets haven’t really increased enough to keep track of cost-of-living increases,” she said. “Therefore, schools have had to make cuts in staff, which is really a shame when you look at buildings dealing with both reductions in staff and resources.”