Councilmember Cheh letter to Chancellor Henderson regarding Wilson High School budget

COUNCIL OF THE D ISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

1350

PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, N.W.
WASHINGTON, DC

Mary M. Cheh
Councilmember, Ward 3
Chair, Committee on Transportation and the Environment

20004
Office: (202) 724-8062
Fax: (202) 724-811 8
mcheh @dccouncil.us
www.marycheh.com

March 26, 2015
Chancellor Kaya Henderson
District of Columbia Public Schools
1200 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Dear Chancellor Henderson,
I am writing to express my grave concern over the cuts made in the initial school
allocations for Wilson High School. Despite a projected 10 percent increase in its
student body, it will experience a 10 percent cut in per-student funding. This cut
will·leave Wilson with insufficient staff to manage almost 1,900 teenagers. It will
also endanger the school's continued success and jeopardize its efforts to bridge the
achievement gap. Wilson has a diverse population of students from all backgrounds
and all neighborhoods of the District, and you have made investing in high schools a
priority. But, cutting Wilson's budget will harm a strong high school and thereby
compromise efforts to serve almost 600 at-risk students and weaken parental
confidence in the DCPS system.
Wilson is the most diverse school and the largest comprehensive, non-application
high school in the District. It is located in Ward 3, but it is a District school. It
serves students from every ward and every zip code in the District. Wilson has at
least 44 percent or 826 students from outside its boundaries. And, its geographic inboundary students come from five different wards, and generous grandfathering
will ensure Wilson continues to serve a diverse in-boundary population for many
years. It also has a sizeable number of students who need extra support. Indeed, 30
percent of its population, or 582 students, are classified as "at-risk". That's a larger
at-risk population than either Coolidge or Roosevelt High Schools' total student
body population.
Wilson is a fast-growing school and is already experiencing a budget shortfall.
Although its School Year 2014-2015 budget was based on a projected enrollment of
1, 708 students, its actual verified enrollment is 1, 793 students. Last year it received
$15,843,048 or $9,276 per student, but with its actual enrollment, this resulted in

only $8,836 per student, less than the per pupil funding mm1mum. The school
expects this growth trend to continue; while next year's projected enrollment is
1,878 students, it will likely be even higher, resulting again in a smaller per pupil
funding amount than the proposed budget of $8,312 per student.
Wilson's budget per student funding this year jeopardizes its ability to operate, and
it threatens gains made in bridging the achievement gap. As noted, although Wilson
will experience a 10 percent increase in its student body next year, it will see a 10
percent decrease in its funds per student. The current allotment provides a mere
$8, 312 . per student, the lowest amount by far of the last five years. Other District
high schools are projected to receive on average $13,840 per student. Coolidge and
Roosevelt High School will receive almost twice as much per student, but Wilson
has more than three times their student body.
This cut in per student funding will have devastating consequences, starting with
class sizes. In the current 2014-2015 school year, Wilson has funding for 99 teachers
and administrative staff, but for the 2015-2016 school year, despite having 170
additional students, Wilson will only have funding for 88.8 teachers and
administrative staff. With Wilson's population size, having 10 fewer teachers means
Wilson will need much larger class sizes, well above the recommended maximum of
25 students per class. In fact, the average class size for honors and Advanced
Placement (AP) classes is already at 30 students and will likely be larger next year,
according to the PTO and LSAT presidents. Some AP classes even have class sizes
of almost 40 students. Increasing class size runs contrary to what we know about
improving student performance. And, having fewer teachers and administrators
will also result in more disruptive class breaks and lunch hours, especially given
Wilson's bursting-at-the-seams student body size.
These cuts also cripple Wilson's efforts to close its achievement gap and empower
students. Wilson plans to increase minority students' participation in AP classes by
20 percent by next year. To achieve this goal, providing academic support through
tutors, study halls, and review courses is critical. But, the proposed budget does not
allow for this. Without budget support, Wilson cannot provide the necessary
assistance to help all its students succeed. Additionally, to increase the 9th grade
promotion rate, Wilson wants to strengthen its Ninth Grade Academy. Again, the
current budget leaves no room to allocate resources or staff to do so. Additionally,
the current budget does not allow Wilson to have a dedicated full-time college
counselor to help its students, many of whom would be the first in their families to
attend college, with college and financial aid applications.
Wilson's budget seems most affected by the decision to cut the per-pupil funding
minimum (PPFM). The Fiscal Year 16 Budget Guide states that the reduction in
the PPFM is, in DCPS's estimation, the least harmful way of providing funds for
"at-risk" students. Based on the effect doing so has on Wilson, I cannot agree. It
seems at odds with the intention of the Fair Student Funding and School Based

Budgeting Act of 2013 and will result in great harm to Wilson. Under the law, perpupil funding is that amount necessary to ensure that all students receive proper
education. At-risk funds are meant to supplement that amount because of the
particular needs of specific students. Rather than supplementing a proper
education, though, at-risk funds realized by cutting the per-pupil minimum
threaten Wilson's basic operations. More than simple cuts to popular programs and
services, this budget raises questions about how the school can effectively provide
basic instruction to its students. And, instead of ensuring Wilson's continued
success, DCPS's proposal threatens to starve the school and endanger its
achievements.
I admire your commitment to providing equality in instruction and outcomes to
District students. All children deserve access to a high-quality education at a highquality school. Some of our schools have significant room for improvement, and you
have rightly made it a priority to provide those schools with needed supports. But,
materially harming Wilson High School - a high school that serves the entire
District - is not a strategy that will bring success to our high school programs. In
fact the opposite will occur. To parents across the District who send their children to
Wilson, Wilson is a model and restores confidence in DCPS. With this budget,
however, you will dramatically shake that confidence. That should not be the
message we send to our parents and our students. And, again, harming Wilson's
basic programs harms the very at-risk students who are supposed to be benefitted all 582 of them, a larger at-risk population than the total enrollment at either
Coolidge or Roosevelt.
Together with all the District parents who send their children to Wilson High
School and all who care about the integrity and continued success of DCPS high
schools, I respectfully request that $900,000 be added to the Wilson budget __: an
amount that will still only give Wilson a mere $8, 791 per student.
Regards,

MaryM. Cheh

cc: Muriel Bowser, Mayor, Government of the District of Columbia; Jennie Niles,
Deputy Mayor of Education, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education; Lisa Ruda,
Deputy Chancellor for Operations, DCPS; Councilmember David Grosso, Chairman,
Committee on Education; Councilmember Yvette Alexander, Member, Committee
on Education; Councilmember Charles Allen, Member, Committee on Education;
Councilmember Anita Bonds, Member, Committee on Education