- David Sipos
Walls Avoids Major Budget Cuts
Reductions Smaller Than Expected Despite End of Pandemic Aid
Walls administrators expect that the new school budget for next year will not result in a problematic funding crunch, despite a small loss of money.
The initial funding allotment from DCPS for SY 2023-24 is $6,536,431, down approximately $12,800 from last year. While this budget may seem staggeringly large to students, this is what it takes to keep Walls running. In past years, even these sums haven’t been enough to avoid cuts to school staff and services. However, this year’s budget is sufficient to avoid any cuts to teachers and other staff.
Much of the funding decline is due to the end of Recovery Funding, a one-time D.C. policy that distributed extra money to schools during the pandemic to ensure budget stability. This cancels out a minor citywide increase in the per-student funding model.
Walls has often experienced budgeting challenges. “Usually, there’s too little money… you can move it here, move it there, but there’s not enough to go around,” said Carlton Ackerman, the teacher co-chair of the Walls Local School Advisory Team (LSAT), which makes budget recommendations alongside Principal Sylvia Isaac.
This has posed problems, putting Walls “in a position where we had to cut a staff position because we didn’t have enough funding,” Ms. Isaac said. In some cases, the administration has been able to make petitions to DCPS to adjust parts of the budget and move funds designated for areas, but this doesn’t always save all staff positions. In 2020, for example, a budget crunch led to the loss of a librarian and a mental health specialist, according to Mr. Ackerman.
Additionally, Walls has a more limited budget compared to many other schools because of the DCPS funding formula. According to Ms. Isaac, Walls doesn’t have a large number of low-income students eligible for free or reduced lunch to qualify for certain Title I federal education funds. Schools with more at-risk students get more money from DCPS under Title I. Though Walls has relatively less funding, it also can get by with less.
Despite the regular funding challenges, this year “it all worked out. “[This is] the first year in years and years and years that it all worked out,” Mr. Ackerman said. With this budget “we were able to maintain all of our positions” and avoid cuts, Ms. Isaac said.
Ms. Isaac, who makes many final budget allocation decisions, chose to prioritize holding onto staff next year, which she views as essential to the culture of the school. “That’s important because it directly speaks to why we’re here. That is to ensure we’re meeting the needs of all of the students,” she said. Mr. Ackerman and the LSAT agreed. “Number one, number two, number three, staff, staff, staff,” Mr. Ackerman said.
Ms. Isaac cited Walls’s only having one counselor per grade, compared to the typical three counselors suggested by the DCPS funding model, as an example of why prioritizing staff was important. Additionally, maintaining staff is critical “so that class sizes aren’t large and students are getting more hands-on support from a teacher,” Ms. Isaac said.
While all staff positions will be maintained next year, that may create a separate budget crunch for non-personnel spending. This category includes custodial supplies, office supplies, and student travel, among other essentials. Ms. Isaac said, “If it was possible to get additional funding for non-personnel…that would have been a change I would have made.”
“Depending on…if the school system recognizes that it is responsible for certain things,” non-personnel spending shouldn’t be a problem, Mr. Ackerman said, “but if the school system says ‘we’re not going to pay for that, that should come out of the school budget’... then that becomes a problem.” For example, there is a question of whether DCPS will cover the cost of textbooks as a citywide expense, or if those have to come out of the Walls budget. If non-personnel funds don’t go far enough, the school will likely ask the community and the Home and School Association to step in.
The administration hopes to stretch funding far enough so that everything runs smoothly. “It is really a balancing act,” Ms. Isaac said.