- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

Cutting funds from the public schools was the main focus of D.C. Council members yesterday during a public hearing on revising the D.C. budget for fiscal 2003.

In an effort to close a $323 million budget gap, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the council imposed a $30.3 million cut in public school funding, angering members of the school board.

But some council members argued that the cut is not as bad as school board members might think because it is coming out of the $110 million increase granted in April 2002.

"The council was forced to add $90 million this year. Next year, instead of adding $90 million, we are adding $80 million that is only a $10 million cut," council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, explained.

But others council members pointed out that the schools were clearly underfunded in 2002 and the cut would be coming out of the school's base budget, not the increase.

Council members Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, and Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, say they will seek amendments to the revised budget to avoid cutting the school budget.

"I want to tax out-of-state revenue bonds, something we don't do now. That would earn $6.6 million next year to be put back into the schools budget," Mr. Orange said.

Mr. Fenty said he would seek an amendment to increase the restaurant tax by 2 percent. "Doing that can get us $25 million and we won't have to cut schools," he said.

Council Chairwoman Linda W. Cropp, Democrat, said, she is "upset" that the city would have to scale back the school system's budget enhancement. But she said the council will be looking for ways to help the schools during the budget crunch.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Superintendent Paul Vance testified that the schools should not be penalized after turning in a balanced budget this year.

Mrs. Cafritz said the school board has not yet voted on any cuts, but said school closings and cutbacks in programs and jobs are on the table.

She blamed an unexplained $23 million shortfall this year on the payroll system, which was discovered to be overpaying workers.

The payroll system, which issues checks on the first and the 15th of the month, failed to differentiate between newly hired workers and those already on the payroll, said Elena Temple, public schools spokeswoman.

"If you started in the mid-September, the computer was paying as if [you] worked the entire month," Ms. Temple said.

"Six chief financial officers in [the school system] over the last 18 months did not catch it, and it has been going on for years now," Mrs. Cafritz said.

Mr. Vance said the school system is in the process of recouping the funds.

The mayor and the council have been working for more than two weeks to revise the budget and clear up the potential deficit. The budget plan also includes significant cuts in new spending, and cuts for several more city agencies.

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