- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

The D.C. school board last night voted to cut the school year by seven days and proposed a huge cut in the summer school program to reconcile the budget for fiscal 2002.

The cuts are part of an austerity drive in the school system that overspent $80 million last year. Board members said the cuts hurt, but were necessary to avoid overspending.

"This has been painful," Superintendent Paul Vance said after the meeting. "But we want to end up with a solution that causes the least pain. The school system is at a point where it has no money."

Two options proposed by Mr. Vance that would have cut hundreds of jobs were rejected by the board.

The proposed cut is expected to save the system millions of dollars, but also will reduce at least 151 positions in the central schools office.

"No matter how we slice it, people will be affected," said School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz before the meeting.

On cutting the number of school days, Mr. Vance said he would try to spread the days out over the year.

"I will pray that we have a light winter with no inclement weather," he said, meaning that the three scheduled three snow days can be included among the seven days that will be lost.

In September, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi disclosed that the city's public schools had overspent $24.6 million on special education, $6.1 million on special education transportation, $8.6 million on utilities and $38 million in Medicaid revenue shortfalls.

School board members have since expressed doubts about the figures, but said they need to be prepared to reconcile this year's budget even as they wait for three audits to investigate the overspending. It will be at least two months before the audit reports are available, officials said.

Mrs. Cafritz said yesterday that during a meeting with Mr. Gandhi and his staff, the board was told the actual overspending figure was far less than projected earlier. "We certainly had an overrun in special education but as far as utilities go, it looks like the overspending is less than $8 million," she said.

Even so, she said, the board needed to make the cuts in preparation for a "worst-case scenario."

The 151 job cuts in the central office are part of Mr. Vance's austerity plan. Cuts proposed in the plan affect the offices of the superintendent, the chief of staff, chief academic officer, chief operating officer, human resources and communications.

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