- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said that the city needs to get better results for the money it spends on public schools.
"[D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous] and I have shoveled money into the schools, and now it's time to see some return," Mr. Williams said.
The mayor came to The Washington Times for a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters to discuss his administration's efforts to close funding shortfalls in the District's 2003 and 2004 budgets.
He said the fiscal crisis will require the city to contain and cut costs while seeking new sources of revenue, which could come from the federal government, a variety of new fees and taxes, or both.
Mr. Williams said most city departments had done a good job of paring budgets, but some D.C. schools, for example still had room for improvement.
"At some point, you have to ask how much money is more money?" the mayor said, noting that the city now spends as much on a per-student basis as neighboring Prince George's County.
He said he was pleased with the school system's ability to shave $18 million in spending for students with special needs from the 2003 budget. That money has been put into a rainy-day fund.
The mayor said he is satisfied with the work of Superintendent Paul L. Vance, but that the city needs to start seeing results.
"I think you have to look at the schools in terms of more help, but you also have to put pressure on them to do better with their finances," Mr. Williams said.
The mayor discussed a variety of issues primarily related to the budget he presented to the council, including health care cost-cutting measures, tax increases and his plan to build a baseball stadium.
The health care alliance, created by the mayor when he closed inpatient services at D.C. General Hospital in 2001, has had its share of problems including continuing complaints from hospitals that the city doesn't pay its bills.
"We've come to an agreement with the hospitals, to do presumptive eligibility," Mr. Williams said.
Hospitals assume coverage and provide care for all patients, but Mr. Williams said the city is billed frequently for services it should not have to support.
He said the city has worked out a deal to conduct audits at the end of the year to determine what is owed and what the city shouldn't have to cover.
"It's what I call 'presumptive eligibility light.' I'm not saying presumptive eligibility hasn't presented problems, but there are many national and local issues that we have to get our arms around as well."
With a prospective $278 million budget gap in the next two years $134 million in 2003 and $144 million in 2004 the city will have to consider closing some recreational facilities and schools, the mayor said.
"We have more pools and parks and recreational centers than most cities, and down the road, we have to look at consolidation," he said.
"I would say, looking at the number of school centers, there is no reason we can't have charter schools and public schools sharing space."
Council members have complained that hundreds of city employees make more than $100,000 a year. But the mayor said many of those high salaries go to workers at independent agencies that he doesn't control.
Mr. Williams also defended his plan to institute a temporary two-year tax surcharge on incomes of more than $100,000 to help fill the budget gaps, but said half of the people earning such salaries don't live in the city.
"Including people that work for the District and federal government, and private industry, the short answer is about 40 [percent] to 50 percent don't live in the city," he said.
Council members killed the surcharge last year.
Mr. Williams said his long-standing efforts to attract a major-league baseball team to the District may have to be delayed until after any war in Iraq is over.
Plans to build the proposed facility using money generated by player income taxes, stadium sales and property taxes are being formulated, but the proposal hit a snag when the mayor suggested taxing D.C. businesses' gross receipts.
"Most businesses have agreed to do it, except the D.C. Board of Trade," said Mr. Williams' chief of staff, Kelvin Robinson, who also attended the luncheon.
Without the board's support, the funding proposal may be insufficient.
"We're going to be speaking with the business community today, about the state of the economy. With the war imminent in Iraq, we may have to look at a lot of things after this goes away and try to regroup then," Mr. Williams said.

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