- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

D.C. Public Schools officials yesterday announced they will eliminate 771 jobs this month to help reduce the school system’s $38 million budget deficit.

Administrators say they will decide by Friday which jobs to cut. Employees who receive layoff notices this month will work until the end of January.

The majority of cuts will come from the ranks of the District’s 5,400 educators, with 10 percent or more of all teachers set to lose their jobs, school administrators said.

“Many teachers will be affected,” said Louis J. Erste, chief operating officer for the 68,000-student school district.

School officials said most of the cuts will come directly from the District’s 167 public schools, affecting 545 teachers and 226 administrative staff positions.

The layoffs in the District follow a recent announcement by Baltimore school officials that between 800 and 1,000 employees from that city’s troubled school system will lose their jobs. However, Baltimore mostly targeted jobs from within the administration and temporary work force.

D.C. administrators defended the elimination of teaching positions, saying the District’s schools have a low teacher-to-student ratio compared with other urban school districts nationwide.

Figures compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics show that in 2001-02 the District had 68,449 students and 11,390 employees, compared with Baltimore’s 97,817 students and 10,660 employees.

Barring a last-minute infusion of cash from Congress or City Hall, school officials said employees whose jobs are being cut should receive notices in the mail by Dec. 29 at the latest.

D.C. school officials also defended the timing of the announcement, saying the cuts were needed to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal quarter in December, a city and federal requirement.

“Unfortunately, [the layoff notice] coincides with the end of December, which is the holidays,” said Mr. Erste.

He said school officials would try to avoid eliminating elementary school teaching jobs, but high school teaching positions are far from safe.

Elementary school students have the same teachers throughout the year, officials said, while secondary-school students typically switch teachers at the change of the semester in January.

D.C. Board of Education member William Lockridge said talks continue with the D.C. Council and mayor for the funds needed to avoid the job cuts.

“If they want to infuse $21 million in the budget, they’re going to have the opportunity to do that,” said Mr. Lockridge, who is co-chairman of the board’s finance committee. “The council and mayor should step up to the plate.”

School officials said the $21 million budget gap they faced before the school year began grew to $38 million because they waited to make the job cuts.

“This was the school board’s decision,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat. “We don’t like to see the prospect of layoffs, but if this is the wisdom of the school board, then that is what’s going to have to happen.”

Mr. Bullock ruled out a quick cash infusion from the city treasury.

“We have provided a 57 percent increase in funding for the schools over the last six years. We don’t have any more money. We’re running close to empty,” he said.

Interim D.C. schools Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie did not speak at yesterday’s press conference on the job cuts, but issued a written statement.

“We are streamlining central office and cutting as deeply as possible without eliminating critical support services to schools,” her statement said.

Washington Teachers Union officials said they would issue a statement in reaction to the job cuts today.

Mr. Lockridge denied speculation that yesterday’s announcement was designed to pressure city officials into increasing funds for city schools.

“We’re not pressuring anybody. We’re just doing our job,” he said.

School administrators said the D.C. Board of Education decided to cut 771 jobs at its Nov. 19 meeting. The school system was required to slash $38 million from the school budget partly to cover the cost of pay raises to teachers.

Administrators plan to identify which positions will be cut using a competition system that takes into account seniority, education, contributions to the school and job performance.

In an unrelated matter, administrators pledged to improve student record-keeping after a consultant’s study found incomplete files kept at several city high schools.

The survey was prompted after a Wilson High School teacher in May 2002 said as many as 15 students had graduated without meeting basic graduation requirements.

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