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Schools lose funds

Parents seek fine-tuning of allocation formula

(Published Nov. 6, 2000)


Staff Writer

Several D.C. public schools are being forced to scale back their academic programs as a result of major funding reductions imposed after their student enrollments were found last month to be much smaller than previously anticipated.

Among the hardest hit is Eastern Senior High School, which suffered the highest dollar loss among the cityís 144 public schools when it was told to cut $640,765 from its $7.3 million budget.

Other schools suffering huge funding losses:

*Barnard Elementary School, which lost $427,885 from a $2.8 million budget;

*Coolidge Senior High School, which lost $496,925 from a $5.6 million budget;

*Ballou Senior High School, which lost $491,512 from a $5.8 million budget;

*Cardozo Senior High School, which lost $319,135 from a $5.5 million budget.

The adjustments in budget allocations are a result of implementation of the so-called "weighted student formula" for funding the public schools, which was championed by former superintendent Arlene Ackerman. The formula is based on an assumption that "the money follows the student" on a per-pupil basis, so that schools with larger enrollments are provided with greater resources to meet studentsí educational needs.

While many schools suffered large funding losses due to adjustments made after the school system took its annual "official" student count in early October, several other schools received huge increases in their funding due to their enrollments ballooning beyond expectations.

(A complete listing of the losses and gains at individual schools is published on page 13 of the print edition of The Common Denominator. The numbers were provided by D.C. Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Donald Rickford.)

Among the big winners, which raked in additional funds:

*Wilson Senior High School, which gained an extra $361,974;

*Webb Elementary School, which also gained $361,974;

*Backus Middle School, which gained $472,681;

*MacFarland Middle School, which gained $514,611.

Public charter schools that opened their doors for the first time this academic year are alternately blamed for both losses and gains at some of the schools.

In the case of Eastern, Edison-Friendshipís addition of a new charter school for freshmen and sophomores at the former Carter G. Woodson campus on Minnesota Avenue NE this year is believed to be largely responsible for Easternís loss of about 200 students in its 10th grade class.

Backus and MacFarland middle schools are believed to have gained many of their new students as a result of the controversial conversion of Paul Junior High School in Ward 4 into a charter school this year, the first such conversion of a DCPS public school into a charter school.

Last spring, the financial control board overruled the school board, its own advisory board, the superintendent and the wishes of protesting parents and students when it supported Paul principal Cecile Middletonís effort to turn her school into a public charter campus for 2000-2001. All except one member of the control boardís educational advisory board resigned in protest over the decision of control board chairman Alice Rivlin and vice chairman Constance Newman.

The D.C. Board of Educationís budget committee, chaired by Ward 8 school board member William Lockridge, convened a special meeting Oct. 30 to hear parent complaints about what they called "devastating" effects of the cuts on programs at their childrenís schools. Several schools are losing teachers and counselors, just two months into a new school year, as a result of the funding cuts.

Lockridge, who noted his support two years ago for the "equity" that the weighted student formula was expected to bring to school funding, expressed frustration over errors in budget projections and policy deficiencies that were not dealt with earlier due to what he characterized as "a lack of accountability" in the way the schools are currently being managed since the control board took away the school boardís authority. The control board has said it will return authority over the schools in January to the new school board to be elected Nov. 7, with the remaining four members to be appointed by the mayor.

Lockridge and committee member Gail Dixon, an at-large school board member, agreed with parents that the current funding system needs to be fine-tuned expeditiously to avoid a repeat of this yearís funding problems.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator