- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The union for D.C. public school teachers yesterday denied that its demand for pay raises created a $38 million budget shortfall that is now forcing the troubled school system to lay off nearly 800 employees.

“We don’t accept that,” said George Springer, administrator for the Washington Teachers Union. “This contract was signed three years ago, and that means there was a commitment to find the funds.”

Union leaders blame the cuts on political wrangling between the school board and city officials, rather than financial shortfalls.

Mr. Springer said Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council would have given the school board the funds needed to avoid job cuts if, in return, the board agreed to give the mayor and council line-item veto powers over the school system’s budget.

“I think we should have given them the money a long time ago,” council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said yesterday, agreeing with the union.

Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Education Committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

D.C. school officials on Tuesday said they were forced to lay off 771 employees, in part, because the union sued the school system for scheduled salary raises.

The WTU filed a lawsuit after the board of education froze salaries in July. D.C. Superior Court Judge Zoe Bush ruled against the school system in September, ordering the board to find $21 million to pay the raises required in the final year of the teachers’ three-year contract.

Board member William Lockridge said the board could not find the money to pay those raises without widespread job cuts.

The $21 million budget gap the board faced at the start of the school year has since grown to $38 million because of a three-month delay in making personnel cuts.

The school system will send layoff notices to hundreds of employees by Dec. 29, including up to 10 percent of the District’s 5,400 teachers, school administrators said.

Most of the cuts will come directly from the District’s 167 schools, affecting 545 teachers and 226 administrative jobs.

“The actions of the [school] board show they understand that they’re going to have to start operating within the budget limits,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.

“We’re seeing a first example of the school board facing up to and addressing what has been a long-standing problem, and we’re not going to criticize that.”

Mr. Bullock said the city must stop giving short-term cash bailouts to a school system that has increased its budget by more than 50 percent over the past six years.

He said the council proposed gaining line-item veto powers over the school system’s budget in response to a request from the Board of Education for more money.

“The council is saying to the board: You’re not going to get more money unless we have something to say about how it’s being spent,” Mr. Bullock said.

Mr. Williams also has proposed exercising greater control over the school system by appointing all school board members, rather than the hybrid board of four mayoral appointees and five elected members.

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