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Constance Newman,
Member, DC Financial
Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority
Public school readiness for 1998-1999 school year
Testimony to the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
August 26, 1998




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Hearing before the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, United States House of Representatives

Public Schools Readiness for 1998-1999 School Year

August 26,1998
For Release Upon Delivery

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am Constance Newman, a Member of the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority ('Authority'). I appreciate the opportunity to represent the Authority at this hearing on the progress and pace of education and management reform in the D.C. Public Schools. We are anxious to share with you reasons for optimism based on our belief that the efforts underway at the D.C. Public Schools represent a sound foundation for sustained improvement in public education in the District of Columbia.


The Authority has in the past and continues to view public education as one of the most critical public service issues for this community. Therefore, we continue to devote considerable time and attention to providing oversight over the D.C. Public Schools. Our oversight efforts have focused on ensuring that the necessary academic and management expertise and experience is present, and that the necessary management and educational practices and systems are employed to support the attainment of educational outcomes.

In our November 1996 Report, “Children In Crisis: A Report on the Failure of the D.C. Public Schools,” the Authority concluded that the deplorable record of the District's public schools, in every important educational and management area, had left the system in crisis. Against every indicator of educational performance-test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, or the number of fire code violations the system was failing to provide the District’s children with quality education and a safe environment in which to learn. On November 15, 1996, in response to this crisis, the Authority through Resolution and Orders, took total and direct responsibility for the public school system in order to fundamentally improve the public schools.

Now almost two years later, by all accounts and objective measures, the public schools are addressing the problems identified in our 'Crisis Report.' Under the strong leadership of Mrs. Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent/Chief Executive Officer and building on the efforts of the previous Superintendent/CEO, Lieutenant General Julius W. Becton, Jr., systems of educational accountability are being established. Moreover, major changes are being made in the structure and management of the public schools. An essential ingredient of every successful reform effort is the presence of a reform minded team committed to change. We are encouraged that Mrs. Ackerman has pulled together a team of committed professionals. She is engaging the community as full partners, and is making the necessary tough, and often painful, decisions necessary to improve the learning environment. The Authority is pleased with and fully supports the direction of these efforts and is fully committed to the aggressive reform agenda she has established.

Academic Improvement and Accountability

We are pleased to report that increased academic standards are being instituted and student achievement is improving. To improve educational readiness, the administration has ended the practice of passing students on from grade to grade regardless of their performance, so called “social promotion.” The results of the nationally recognized Stanford 9 tests, which were administered in the beginning of the school year, were disappointing at all educational levels. In response, Mrs. Ackerman instituted an intervention strategy which included concentrated instruction in problem schools. As result of these efforts, the spring Stanford 9 test results improved at every grade level. Another effort which has just been concluded was the summer school STARS program, where 24,000 students attended in order to meet promotional requirements. These measures represent a promising foundation, however, a great deal more is required. What is required to be done will take time, resources, and full community support to accomplish.

The D.C. Public Schools has developed an educational strategic plan which identifies the critical actions and time frames for addressing student achievement, staff development, and implementing systems of accountability. Complementing this effort, Mrs. Ackerman is conducting an examination of the instructional program, administrative operations, and other operational issues which support the education reform strategy. We all recognize that further improvements are necessary. The Authority is fully supporting Mrs. Ackerman in her efforts to make the necessary improvements.

DC Public Schools Will Open on Time

Mr. Chairman, we are pleased to report that the D.C. Public Schools will open on time. Students, parents, principals, and teachers will return to schools that are cleaner and safer. By the end of the current fiscal year, the public schools will have spent almost $70 million in capital funds. With the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. General Services Administration, numerous roofs, chillers, and other repairs will have been completed by the time schools open. The public schools have disposed of surplus facilities for sale in accordance with the Authority approved surplus property disposition plan. After years of inaction, success in selling these properties will generate more than $12 million in revenues to defray infrastructure improvements. In addition to capital improvements, the U.S. Corp of Engineers is assisting in improving the maintenance program of the schools and is providing an understanding of the requirements for the development of a Long Range Facilities Master Plan, which could guide the school's capital improvement strategy.

Number of students in the Public Schools

At this point, I wish to note that, perhaps for the first time, the D.C. Public Schools know how many students are in its schools and programs. As required by the “District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995,” the Authority hired an independent auditor to audit the schools' count of 77,100 students for the 1997–1998 academic year. The independent auditor has verified the number. While we have made progress, we are still concerned with the issue of non-residents attending D.C. Public Schools. The Authority, at the urging of the Emergency Transition Education Board of Trustees, approved the establishment of more stringent requirements for documenting residency. Beginning in the fall, parents will be required to provide tax, employment, and other documentation to verify residency. As a result of the new requirements and more anticipated aggressive enforcement efforts, the number of non-residents attending D.C. Public Schools will decrease. The Authority will continue to monitor the impact of the policy change and enforcement efforts.

D.C. Public Schools are living within Budgeted Resources

As a result of efforts by the Authority and the school's leadership, the D.C. Public Schools has closed a projected gap in the current fiscal year budget. The schools will end the fiscal year with a balanced budget. The budgetary measures used to address the budget gap included a major reduction in force, expenditure freezes, and reductions in overtime. The Authority has reviewed the proposed FY1999 operating plan, and will monitor it to ensure implementation. As part of the development of the FY 1999 operating budget, the schools have developed individual school-based budgets. These budgets will be used as an important tool in promoting schools-based management and improving individual school accountability and expenditure control.

Other Issues

Mr. Chairman, I wish to mention two issues which the Authority will devote considerable attention to in the coming months, Special Education and Charter Schools.

Special Education

The crisis in the special education system continues to demand considerable attention. Nearly 7,700 students are already in special education, and the number is expected to grow to 11,000 in the coming school year. As we have previously reported, this growth is having tremendous implications for the future cost of education and the pace of educational reform. In FY 1998, $102 million from all sources will be spent for these operations, an increase of nine percent over the previous year. In FY 1999, $125 million is budgeted. Mrs. Ackerman has devoted significant resources in reducing the backlog of special education assessment. The increase of the referral and assessment period from 50 to 120 days will have an appreciative impact on the number of private placements, which is a significant cost. All in all, managing special education represents a challenge for the D. C. Public School system. One of the highest priorities of the Authority will be to work with Mrs. Ackerman to determine the most cost-effective approaches to special education, while continuing to meet the educational needs of the students.

Charter Schools

Charter schools present an opportunity for providing innovative approaches to public education. While we recognize the opportunities, the Authority is concerned about the administrative impact of charter schools on the delivery of public education in the District of Columbia. Unlike most other communities which have gradually increased the number of charter schools, the number of charter schools will grow rapidly in the District of Columbia, from 2 last year to 19 in the coming school year. As you can imagine, the issue of principal and teacher recruitment, facilities planning, and funding are posing difficult questions for the delivery of quality public education in the District.


In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the Authority is pleased with progress in the District schools. The efforts to “Make Children First” are starting to pay off. But we are realistic that this promising start is just that — a start. We have much, much more to do to bring about a quality education for all public school children. Superintendent Ackerman and her team of committed educators and managers have begun to tackle education and management problems confronting the public schools. We can see the evidence of change. Sustained reform will require the cooperation and participation of the entire community. We are committed to working with all parties to ensure that the District of Columbia continues to build a model public school system.

Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony at this very important hearing on public education in the District of Columbia.

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