Testimony before the DC Council
By: Laura Fuchs
Given: September 28, 2021
In my life I wear many hats. I am a Ward 5 resident, DC Public School Social Studies Teacher, an elected member of the executive board member of the WTU, Ward 7 Education Council and Empower DC, the Chair of the WTU’s Committee on Political Education, Co-Chair of the DC Caucus of Rank and File Educators and a delegate to the DC Metro Labor Council. All of my work, and the reason I am elected to these positions, is to do my best to hold our city accountable to our students and our future.
In my 15 years as a teacher at HD Woodson my experience with facilities and the complete lack of oversight provided by the Council is emblematic of the problems facing our district as a whole. Firstly, I missed my testimony time slot because the hearing on facilities is being held while educators are in school. We know that under mayoral control the District’s higher-ups consistently lie, principals are under pressure to downplay reality and it is the unionized teaching force that have consistently stepped up, at great risk to ourselves, and spoken truth to power. We are the ones who know first hand what is going on in our buildings, yet we are consistently devalued as members of the public who can and should be able to testify because of when these hearings are held.
In 2007, my first year at HD Woodson, I taught in the Tower of Power. I don’t need to go over how much DCPS let that school go when they decided they were going to knock it down, but a school built in the 1970s to have completely fallen apart shows the systemic neglect that this District has shown students East of the River. Fires, flooding, mold, extreme heat, walking up 9 flights of stairs, you name it, we experienced it every single day. DCPS did nothing to ameliorate the conditions.
In our interim building things were actually pretty good. As we came back to our brand-new building, the first to be completely rebuilt in the wave of modernizations, we began to realize our problems were only just beginning. Done with almost zero oversight from the District, and several principal turnovers and limited input from the community, we walked in to a building that was 100% not built for us or with our student body in mind. Instead it was built with buzzwords and zero knowledge of a high school day. The hallways were larger than the classrooms, many classrooms had zero windows, the audio/visual system didn’t work from day one, our roof and window’s leaked so badly that floors were warping, there were basically no trash cans, a cafeteria and auditorium that were not designed to hold our entire population if we hit our maximum numbers, we had promethean boards – which were already on the verge of being outdated in every room and these teeny-tiny laptops which you could tell would barely last a year. We were told we had 1 year to put in all the issues for the warranty, which we did with extreme diligence, only for basically all of them to be completely ignored. And so it began.
DCPS and the Council repeatedly forced us to be grateful for a building that wasn’t built properly from day one. Our heating/cooling system is almost impossible to run and leads to very uneven temperatures and air quality throughout the building. We never have soap. Like never. Our bathroom stalls are often broken. Work orders don’t get fixed. I want to give a time range, but the fact is they just don’t get fixed. Teachers supply basic needs more often than not from our own paychecks. There is no accountability anywhere. Those here at the council allow things to get out of control awful and then try to act like it is only the Mayor’s fault. You take walkthroughs DAYS before school starts as if that will make a difference when we have been telling anyone who would listen what major problems have been happening. Frankly everyone just goes along because what else can we do? Our schools don’t get shut down even if the conditions are awful, we just keep going.
So is this on the mayor? Absolutely. This has been going on before Fenty and kept going on after him. This isn’t just about Bowser. This is about a system of mayoral control and a Council that is too small and too uninterested in touching the third rail of education to question the narrative of how awesome things are. This is a council that would rather build a new $100 million building and have a ribbon cutting than deal with the fact that these buildings are riddled with cost overruns and sadly performed building and maintenance budgets from day one and do next to NOTHING to support our schools in paying for upkeep leaving it to overburdened and under-supported principals who probably don’t have the training to deal with this kind of thing anyways since DCPS is obsessed with “academics” and nothing on logistics.
This is all relevant to today with the pandemic because it isn’t like DCPS has magically changed. DCPS central office still over-inflates what it is doing, downplays the problems, and commands and punishes its way into silencing those who dare to speak out and complain. These problems are simply now even more problematic now that we are in a pandemic where facilities can make or break whether we mitigate COVID or not.
It will take a DRAMATICALLY different outlook from a Council that is far more aggressive and goes beyond a hearing to get the facilities issues under control. It will take proper budgeting that funds our schools based on its size and needs, not just population, so that we can adequately take care of our buildings.