A School’s Budget Matters

The purpose of this open letter is to strongly advocate for budget assistance for Jefferson MS Academy’s 2017-2018 school year. As a Jefferson teacher, I can verify that the entire Jefferson Academy community is extremely hard-working and talented. In fact, Jefferson MS Academy is often described as one of the fastest improving schools in the District of Columbia.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Even the new DC Public Schools’ Chancellor recognizes Jefferson’s great work. Following his recent visit, Chancellor Antwan Wilson said the “teaching and learning at Jefferson will put our students on a path to college, successful careers, and beyond. I see that. Our teachers see that. Our students see that. Our parents see that.”

While Jefferson’s success is undeniable, that work is being threatened by a budget that simply cannot accommodate the basic needs of our school community. For example, Jefferson’s budget allocation was based on a projected number of enrolled students (277), prior to the start of this school year (2016-2017).  Currently, Jefferson has 30 more students than the original enrollment projections (277).  However, more students didn’t equate to more funds, which defies some degree of logic.

Unfortunately, this pattern – do more with less – seems likely to happen again, for the coming school year (2017-2018). In fact, Jefferson’s 2017-2018 budget is nearly identical to last school year’s budget, despite an enrollment projection that is 33 students higher than the original projection of 277.  The current budget will result in a reduction of $1600 per pupil spending as compared to the FY17 budget. If Jefferson wanted to simply maintain its current staffing model, then they would have a deficit of nearly $300,000 to start the coming school year.

Without assistance of approximately $300,000, Jefferson will be forced to cut several teaching positions, all of which are essential to the quality of the academic program and compliance with legal and district mandates. For example, this budget shortfall would put Jefferson out of compliance with IDEA, the D.C. Healthy Schools Acts, the Washington Teacher’s Union (WTU) contract, and several other district mandates. Positions that will be cut without budget assistance include:

  • A special education teacher: With a special education population of 25% and a self-contained Specific Learning Disability (SLD) program that services students from around the district, the loss of a special education teacher would be devastating. Jefferson would be incapable of servicing the Individualized Education Program (IEP) hours of countless students and providing the consistent support that ensures their academic success.
  • A Reading Intervention teacher: Nearly two-thirds of Jefferson students enter 6th grade below grade level in Reading. Jefferson’s Reading Intervention teacher supports approximately 100 students each year, and these students consistently make multiple grade levels of growth on the Reading Inventory (RI) assessment. This cut would eliminate Reading Intervention as an option for nearly all of Jefferson’s students.
  • A PE/Health teacher: This cut would put Jefferson out of compliance with the D.C. Healthy Schools Act. In order to provide required PE hours for 310 students, Jefferson must have two PE/Health teachers. This cut would also increase class sizes of other elective courses to 35-40 students.
  • A STEM teacher: A hallmark of Jefferson’s academic program – and a major recruiting tool – is its commitment to Advanced and enrichment courses. Our STEM teacher provides a course in robotics and design for hundreds of students each year. This cut would also increase class sizes of other elective courses to 35-40 students.

As a middle school on the rise, Jefferson and its students deserve the resources and staff to maintain the quality of its program. To be clear, Jefferson MS isn’t for anything extra; it’s simply asking to maintain current staffing and non-personnel allocations as enrollment increases and Jefferson’s success grows. The Jefferson Academy community requests and deserves the support of DC Public Schools, the D.C. City Council, and the Mayor’s Office. The district regularly points to Jefferson as a model for schools around the district. It would seem to be in everyone’s best interest – most importantly Jefferson students and families – to help Jefferson maintain the quality of its rich, rigorous academic program.

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