Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Ryllie Danylko. I am a policy analyst at DC Action, home of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition. I am testifying today about an issue closely related to the bill being discussed today— the recent decision by DCPS to discontinue the provision of security personnel for many of the afterschool programs in DCPS schools. While this decision was temporarily reversed for the current fiscal year, the school district has implied that it will not cover these costs in future years and that out-of-school-time partners should find money in their organizational budgets for security personnel. For the record, we are talking about expenses of nearly $100,000 for some community-based organizations. This change would not only threaten community-based OST organizations’ financial stability and sustainability of programs for youth, but could also compromise the safety of students and staff during afterschool programs – especially for middle and high school students, who this decision would disproportionately impact.
OST programs provide a long list of benefits for young people and families, including academic enrichment, creative outlets, social and emotional support, exercise, and college and career readiness. Perhaps less obvious, but equally important, is the benefit of a safe space for youth to spend the afterschool hours. Working parents especially rely on OST programs for peace of mind that their children are in a safe, supportive environment in the hours between the end of the school day and the end of their workday. That’s why it’s crucial that DCPS commits to continuing the longtime policy of providing security personnel to ensure student and staff safety.
We understand that conversations around public safety and security in schools are complex, and that there are varying viewpoints among District leaders, families, and youth, about what makes them feel safe in their neighborhoods and schools. However, the answer is not to pull security resources from OST programs, especially without bringing OST leaders to the table to come up with collaborative ideas about how to address safety and security in afterschool programs.
When DC Action and the DC OST Coalition spoke out against the decision, which was originally set to apply to the current school year, we were pleased that Chancellor Ferebee and the school district’s decision makers responded by stating DCPS would cover security costs for this year for programs that provided free afterschool activities to families and who were in compliance with partnership requirements. The district’s response signaled an understanding of the impact that the initial policy change could have on programs and students, and a willingness to collaborate with OST partners on resolving challenges. However, the Chancellor’s response fell short of committing to provide security for programs in the future, saying, “While DCPS will continue to evaluate this issue moving forward, partners are strongly encouraged to identify funding to cover future costs.”
If the school district implements next year the same change that was presented this year – to only provide security for the 55 DCPS-sponsored OST programs, many OST providers may be forced to eliminate seats for some of our city’s most vulnerable youth. Most alarming is that this seat decrease will disproportionately affect students from low-income families that receive free or low-cost afterschool services. In many instances, OST providers offer programming that fills critical gaps in DCPS afterschool programming. It will also disproportionately impact middle and high school students, since the majority of DCPS-sponsored sites are elementary schools. Middle and high school students are at greater risk of becoming disconnected from positive environments and often have less supervision than younger students in the afterschool hours.
To further illustrate the financial impact on nonprofit organizations, note that a security guard costs an average of $45 an hour. If a guard is in a school from 4:30 to 6:30 pm on all 180 school days, this brings the cost to over $16,000 per site. Many organizations have programming in multiple sites, ballooning security costs to close to $100,000 for some nonprofits. These costs are prohibitively expensive for nonprofit organizations that are already facing increased operational costs associated with the pandemic and rising inflation while confronting increased student needs and longer waiting lists for their programs.
OST partners don’t just value student safety and well-being – they are an important part of the “village” that keeps our youth safe. In the coming year, the coalition is eager to work with Chancellor Ferebee, Deputy Mayor Kihn, and the Council to strategize around these challenges and come up with answers that keep youth safe and able to access affordable, reliable, and high-quality OST activities. While OST is not the focus of this hearing, we urge the Committee to convene a public roundtable for OST as soon as possible, given that the issue mentioned today is just one of a number of administrative challenges that the OST sector is facing.