- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

The highly lauded Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest has handed out pink slips to at least 14 staff members, The Washington Times has learned.
Principal Mitzi Yates said seven full-time teachers and three part-time teachers are among the 14 staffers being fired at the end of this school year. But sources close to the school said the number could be as high as 20 teachers a quarter of its 80-member faculty.
The staff cuts would affect the number of programs at the schools and increase class sizes, sources said. One source said the entire musical theater department would be cut next year.
Ms. Yates dismissed the higher number of layoffs as rumor and said no department would be eliminated.
"At this point, the curriculum will not be compromised," she said, though she acknowledged no new teachers would be hired for the coming academic year.
The latest cuts are funding-related, she said.
"We are eliminating positions because Ellington has been consistently underfunded as an arts school, and it costs more money to run an arts school," she said. "I am unfortunately charged with tightening the belt."
The school, which has 489 students in grades nine through 12, is considered one of the top-performing public schools in the District. It has among the highest standardized test scores in the city and a dropout rate below 1 percent.
The school is run as a partnership between the city's public schools system and the nonprofit Ellington Fund, which raises money for the school through contributions from individuals and businesses.
Steve Seleznow, chief of staff for the District's schools, said that Ellington received as much funding as any other high school in the system, but that it had failed to raise enough private funds.
He said the school system could no longer give additional funds to the school.
"We are on a very tight budget. Whatever funds go to Ellington would have to come from other sources," he said.
The school system's pleas to the city for additional funding for special schools such as Ellington so far have gone unanswered, he said.
Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, one of the school's founders, said the September 11 terrorist attacks meant money that might have been given to Ellington was being donated to victims' funds and other charities.
She said the city also needed to channel more money to the school.
"I think it is disgusting. A city that is talking about having a city government school and a science and technology school should be ashamed of cutting money from its most successful school," she said.
Ms. Yates said the school would receive about $4.2 million next year around the same as it had last year. The school also received around $800,000 in additional funds from the school system during this academic year.
Susan Gushue, who has a child at Ellington, said the city needed to give the school more money because students receive three additional hours of instruction every day. Mrs. Gushue said she was "very unhappy" to hear about the layoffs, but added there was nothing the school could do without funding.
A teacher at the school said its funding problems were at least a decade old. "We need to sit down and review the history of what we did here. Where are we going to go, and how did we get here?"
Ellington has a history of terminating teachers: Last year, nine teachers were fired by the school. In 1998, about half a dozen teachers were asked to leave and an entire department was dismantled by the acting principal.
Of the teachers being laid off this year, three are public schools employees. The others are paid by the Ellington Fund.
Barbara Bullock, the head of the Washington Teachers Union, said teachers who are public employees and belong to the union were assured of other jobs within the school system. "This [moving teachers around] happens all the time if you don't have enough money," she said.
The teachers whose salaries are paid through the fund have no such assurances, however. One educator who did not want to be named said morale among Ellington faculty members was low.
"Some teachers open their mailbox, and there's a letter there. No one knows who is next."


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