- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

Back in the fall, just as D.C. parents were getting their rhythm for the start of the school year, the city's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, dropped a bombshell the school system faced an $80 million deficit. By the time report cards for the first advisory were ready, Mr. Gandhi had somewhat eased fears, saying he had juggled the books to help close the spending gap. As teachers closed the books on the first semester, parents got more bad news. Officials put off tens of millions of dollars in spending that was to have occurred in the last fiscal year and moved it over to this fiscal year. So, parents are right back where they started in September. This presents a considerable challenge for school officials and a particularly difficult one for the D.C. Council.

Indeed, the hear-no-evil approach of the members of the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation Chairman Kevin Chavous and Sharon Ambrose, Adrian Fenty, Phil Mendelson and Carol Schwartz falls just this side of dereliction of duty. This is the committee that should have warned parents about the deficit, the high rates of improperly immunized school children, and the city's repeated failure to tap Medicaid reimbursements. And it might have, had it conducted the proper oversight hearings. After all, as the council proclaims on its web site: "Council committees issue analytical reports on the effectiveness of government operations and make recommendations for reform. In addition, the Council monitors agency spending to ensure compliance with the approved budget and financial plan."

However, the Chavous committee obviously has not asked the right questions, nor has it issued an "analytical" report on school operations." Moreover, any significant "recommendations for reform" most assuredly have failed "to ensure compliance with the approved budget and financial plan." So, the questions remain. What did the chief financial officer know, and when did he know it? Has the Chavous committee recommended reforms so this does not happen again? And, more to the point, has the Chavous committee commissioned the Office of the D.C. Auditor to comb the school system's books following complaints from school officials that the CFO didn't give them the numbers?

So it is that, as in so many years past, the District is "just one catastrophe away from bankruptcy." And this is not, by the way, an editorial comment. Those words come directly from the horse's mouth that is, the CFO himself, Mr. Gandhi. The chief responsibility then falls to Mr. Chavous, Mrs. Ambrose, Mr. Fenty, Mr. Mendelson and Mrs. Schwartz to make certain that no "catastrophe" occurs in this year's school budget on their watch.


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