- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

D.C. public school officials said yesterday that hundreds of teachers will keep their jobs because the District had found enough money to continue paying educators at least until the end of the school year.

The announcement means the school system can avoid acting on a proposal made last week to lay off as many as 500 teachers.

The proposal called for eliminating 771 teaching and administrative jobs throughout the school system to help close a $38 million spending gap. Most of the proposed cuts were to teaching positions in the city’s high schools.

However, in an unexpected turnabout last night, interim schools Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie said at the start of the Board of Education meeting that no teachers’ jobs would be cut.

The announcement followed widespread protests and letter-writing campaigns from hundreds of teachers, parents and activists to school officials and city politicians.

Many of the protesters filled the board meeting room and adjoining hallways last night to testify against the proposed cuts.

School administrators said teachers’ jobs would be safe, but an unspecified number of positions would still likely be cut from administrative offices in the 67,000-student system.

“There will not be any cuts at the school level,” said Ray Bryant, chief of special education for the school system. “There are going to be cuts in central administration.”

D.C. administrators said they would cut $6.4 million from the central administration budget instead of laying off teachers.

Administrators also expect a supplement of at least $14.6 million from a combination of other sources, including D.C. Council appropriations.

Teachers and parents greeted the news with cheers, but later condemned school officials and city politicians for allowing the crisis to last so long.

“Both sides were playing politics with the education of the city’s schoolchildren,” said Marvin Tucker, whose child attends Noyes Elementary School in Northeast.

“It shouldn’t have had to come to this,” he said. “It’s like the city council and mayor and school board all want to see who flinches first.”

More than 80 teachers, students, parents and activists waited hours to testify at last night’s meeting, even after the announcement that no teacher jobs would be cut. More than 200 others listened to the testimony.

Metropolitan Police Department officers locked several dozen parents and teachers out of the board offices, saying there was insufficient space.

Alfred Hubbard, a social studies teacher at Ballou High School in Southeast, also blamed school and city officials last night for the crisis.

“There is no question that there was a power struggle between the various political elements in the city,” he said. “I don’t think that it should have ever come to this.”

Washington Teachers Union officials agreed, saying the cuts were a result of political wrangling between school and city officials, rather than financial shortfalls.

George Springer, administrator for the union, said Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council would have given the school board funding to avoid layoffs earlier if, in return, the board would have agreed to give the city officials line-item veto powers over the school system’s budget.

City officials complained that the school system had overspent its budget by $300 million in the past four years, despite declining enrollment.

Three D.C. Council members — Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat; Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat; and Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat — last week suggested giving the school system extra money again this year to avoid the layoffs.

Mr. Williams yesterday said he was willing to give the school system an additional $10 million to avoid layoffs, despite his long-standing criticism that the school system has mismanaged its money.

Last week, D.C. school system administrators said the job cuts were necessary to help cover the $38 million budget shortfall. The troubled school system had planned to lay off up to 10 percent of its 5,400 teachers, administrators said.

The proposal called for administrators to identify by tomorrow the employees who would lose their jobs.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz had suggested last week to D.C. Council members that administrators were working on a plan to avoid the layoffs.

Mrs. Cafritz said school officials were considering offering veteran employees buyout packages. No new details about the plan were released yesterday.

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