- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

Editor's note: D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams testified at a meeting of the City Council April 7 on his proposed spending for local schools. Below are excerpts of his remarks.

I support full funding for our schools, and I want to be clear about what I mean by "full funding." I support funding our traditional public schools at a level of $653 million for both local- and so-called state-level costs.

Some $520 million of these dollars go toward funding the legally required per-pupil funding formula for our 71,000 students in DCPS schools. The state-level costs continue to be high, funding mostly special education and transportation. The superintendent and I have discussed the plan for reducing these costs over several years. She will produce more for more in the short-term, and will produce more for less down the road, by building our system's capacity to return students from expensive private placements. I support this approach.

In addition, $51 million is allocated for our charter schools, with a current population of 7,000. Considering the exponential growth of our charter schools, I am proposing an additional $35 million from reserve funds to cover this upcoming school year. Let me be clear. I know that this is a stopgap measure. This is a transition year in which my administration will be working with the council and the community to develop sound policy to support the students in our public charter and traditional public schools. There is no reason for our city to become balkanized over a shared purpose educating our young people in the best possible environments.

In addition to our local efforts already underway with the Education Committee chair's staff, we will need to work with the Congress to see that the federal law stating how projected student enrollment is funded can be tailored to better support the needs of our schools, and not to put them at cross-purposes.

In addition, I am proposing an additional $10 million from our tobacco settlement funds to be directed at improving our technology readiness and our initiatives to attract and retain the highest caliber of principal and teacher. Every classroom, lab and library must be linked to the Internet and every adult who educates our children should be a prepared and able professional. We know that these things are the foundation of a strong structure. Without setting them in place, however, we cannot raise the rest of the barn. Let's set a strong foundation this year, putting us in the position to promise our families the excellent education they demand for their children.

Now, some will ask, "Mr. Mayor, how can you justify so much funding for a school system that still faces major operational challenges?" My answer is that this is not an either/or exercise. We must provide the necessary resources while fixing the operational challenges. To fix these challenges, we must implement the other three pillars of reform. The first, as I have suggested here, is to invest in our schools. Full funding for our schools.

The second is to augment the superintendent's management support team by placing business managers at all schools, returning procurement and finance authority, and supporting legislation to change the fiscal year to July 1. We need to provide the tools for the superintendent to exercise leadership. And, we will be looking closely at how she is achieving the standards and performance measures that she has set for this year and for the approaching school years.

The third pillar is rallying our community to provide essential academic supports. We need to unite the entire community behind achieving a gold standard for our educational system. That is why I propose using tobacco settlement dollars to fund needed initiatives in the areas of principal and teacher recruitment and technology. My staff and the staff of [DC Public Schools] have presented these plans to you in detail, indicating how they build on key priority areas for reform. These proposals are the seeds to germinate the interest and involvement of our business and higher education partners. Across our entire community, our support for schools must take many forms.

The fourth pillar of reform is to ensure that our governing structures can support and guide our achievement of the highest standard of excellence. I take my commitment to the proposed hybrid school board seriously and will seek to appoint individuals grounded in their communities, who have demonstrated ability to work with others, and who bring particular skills needed for a policy-making board.

… Myths about our system only distract our focus from the real problems at hand. For example, I have heard many people say that our per-pupil expenditures are too high, and I even thought the same at one point. Contrary to popular belief, however, they are lower than our neighboring districts, in most instances, with a per-pupil cost of about $8,300, lower than both Arlington and Montgomery counties. And, our student population has greater needs with 80 percent receiving free or reduced lunch, as compared to 40 percent in Arlington and 24 percent in Montgomery County. In addition, our school system's central administration, at about 6 percent of the overall budget, is among the lowest in the nation. This means that the dollars we put in this year will be going out not to fund an oak-paneled office for the superintendent, but to fund books in the classroom, high quality teachers and stronger special-education programs. We should look to fix the problems we have and give credit where credit is due.

Anthony A. Williams is mayor of the District of Columbia.

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