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Wilma Harvey, President of the Board of Education of the District of Columbia,
Testimony to the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
March 13, 1998




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Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. The Board of Education is deeply concerned about the questions raised around the accuracy of the DC public schools enrollment count. The Board, as a policy body, must have reliable information upon which to base its decisions and recommendations.

As you know, the problem is part of a long-standing controversy. Among the justifications given for instituting the Emergency Board of Trustees and hiring CEO Becton was the past administration's problems with opening schools on time and providing a validated student count. The fact that the DC public school system continues, even under the new leadership, to have difficulty with the student count is disappointing, but comes as little surprise. The DCPS has continued to postpone putting in systems we need to maintain adequate student records and data that accurately describes current enrollment and helps us to predict future enrollment and to get the administrative and enrollment data needed to make policy, management and oversight decisions in a timely and transparent manner.

I will not pretend to be an expert on these systems. However, the advice the Board has received from informed citizens is that the DCPS needs both an upgraded geographic information system for facilities planning and a large data management system to maintain student records through which we can track our students and project enrollment. Our management information system was outdated years ago. Superintendent Smith labored under the inadequacy of our student records system and the current administrative team has not made major progress in improving this system.The DC public schools must find the will and resources to install or contract for these systems, or we will continue to be subjected to hearings such as this one today in which we are asked to defend our record-keeping.

Uncertainty about the accuracy of our enrollment count handicaps the District public schools in many ways. Student count is the starting point of many of our financial formulas and planning activities. All of our academic and facilities planning begins with assumptions about the number of students we serve. If we fail to be certain of such a basic measurement, it's possible that we go headlong into decisions based on faulty information.

Good data should be the beginning place of public policy. I am intensely aware of what happens when this is not the case because of my experience with school closings last year in my ward, Ward One. Ward One schools are bursting with students. Those of us who live there know that we have had an increase of large families moving into the area, that there is a planned major housing development and that Metro construction will increase the number of residents. Yet two schools were closed in this ward. Many of the citizens who advocated for maintaining these schools feel that the DC public schools overlooked the obvious indicators that Ward One will continue to experience student growth. I know that during that school closing process the system did not have adequate information of student enrollment and of the conditions of school facilities across to the District. As a result I continue to believe that mistakes were made. It is not surprising that charter school proponents attempting to respond to unmet demand are now seeking to use these same closed schools.

A similar problem emerged around the draft facilities master plan prepared by the DCPS. Hampered by lack of creditable current and projected enrollment data, the plan failed to give a vision of the kinds of schools and their geographic distribution that we will need to support community revitalization in the District. I believe the City Council was correct to reject this plan.

I strongly believe that until we have a complete picture of current and projected enrollment, we should not proceed with additional school closings. We must be able to plan for success and meet the needs and demands of families returning to our improving schools. I believe that it is highly plausible that over the coming years the number of schools children may increase significantly.

Again, let me emphasize: we need good data to make good policy decisions.

  • Our city budget is capped and we can not request additional money just because we have not planned well;
  • The DCPS can not make creditable arguments for an increased education budget without more creditable data;
  • We need a reliable student count to accurately calculate the core allotment in order to fund our charter schools; and
  • We need good data to plan for every aspect that make schools good – new or modernized schools, textbooks and library acquisitions, teacher recruitment and training, etc.

Let me close by saying that our goal is to be a 1st class school system that our residents support and to which they send their children. To get there, we need integrity in the enrollment count and we need the ability to make projections based on reliable data and we need the entire process to sufficiently transparent that we regain the confidence of our public.

I believe that it is time to stop operating in an emergency mode and postponing serious planning. Of course, we must act with urgency, but we must take the time now to put in the systems that we need to begin to plan well, to budget well and to succeed.

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