- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

D.C. public school officials are cutting more than 400 jobs, some of which are vacant, to help close a $40.4 million budget deficit this fiscal year.

The job cuts, which will not include classroom teaching positions, will contribute $28.3 million in savings for the $713.4 million fiscal 2003 budget, school officials announced yesterday. Of the 422 positions slated for elimination, 160 are such jobs as registrars and assistant principals, and 262 are positions in central administration.

Personnel who lose their jobs will receive written notices of termination around July 15.

The “deficit implementation plan” also imposes salary freezes, a savings calculated at $1.7 million, and slashes $6.5 million in funding for textbooks.

“All of this is in the interest of the students, and I’m not just pushing buzzwords like ‘Leave No Child Behind,’” school board member William Lockridge, referring to a federal education act, said after school officials had presented the deficit-reduction plan. “This is the only way we can stabilize our district.”

Positions to be eliminated from school staffs include teacher coordinators, deans of students and in-school suspension coordinators. Also on the list are 12-month, 80-hour aides, whose positions will be converted to 10-month positions instead of being cut.

“I can’t say right now which schools will be the most affected,” said Veleter Mazyck, general counsel for the D.C. public schools. “I can say that not all schools will be affected,” as not all schools employ the kinds of personnel facing elimination.

Nearly all departments in central administration are being asked to cut 10 percent of their staff. The school board is still compiling a list of specific positions to be cut from administration, as well as the names of specific employees who will lose their jobs, said Aleta Alsop, acting director of human resources for the school system.

Jennifer Smith, principal of Capitol Hill Cluster School in Northeast, warned officials at the news conference yesterday against underestimating the role of nonteaching personnel.

“It’s true to say they are not classroom teachers, but they do have an impact on the students on a daily basis,” Miss Smith said.

George Parker, a math teacher at Eliot Junior High School in Northeast, decried the loss of teaching resources as much as the loss of raises and personnel.

“This issue here is, you are constantly asking teachers and principals to do more in terms of increasing test scores, yet, at the same time, there is a constant reduction in funding,” said Mr. Parker, who also represents his school in the D.C. teachers union.

The school officials’ announcement follows a series of revelations that the school system has exacerbated its financial woes by overhiring and making improper credit card charges.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams was lobbying Congress for federal funds to shore up the District’s $134 million budget gap in March, when school officials revealed that their payroll included about 640 more employees than allowed in the current budget.

School officials also confirmed that financial consultant Dexter Lockamy was paid nearly $400,000 since his hiring in December 2001 to create the school system’s payroll budget.

School officials denied, however, that Mr. Lockamy is to blame for the overhiring problems.

Miss Mazyck said yesterday that Mr. Lockamy’s contract with the school system has ended, but she could not say when he had left.

Criticism of the school system’s finances intensified last month when city auditors revealed that school officials could not account for more than $1.6 million in government-issued credit charges in fiscal 2001. The unaccounted-for charges included unauthorized purchases of hotel services, rental cars, food and entertainment.

D.C. Council members criticized the school system, saying the agency should scrap its credit card program. The Washington Times reported that school officials are trying to recover the misspent funds and have threatened to fire employees who made improper charges.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and a member of the education committee, said yesterday that the announced budget cuts are “half the battle” in restoring the school system’s fiscal credibility and efficiency.

“You’ve got to tighten the belt and show some fiscal discipline,” Mr. Fenty said. “Of course, this has to be coupled with better results and financial oversight, too.”

But Iris Toyer, co-chairman of Parents United For D.C. Public Schools, said the cuts are a disappointment.

“We feel like everyone on the side of schools is equally frustrated with the city’s inability to fund education,” she said.

“We understand the financial situation of the city, but the creative strategies the city has come up with for other initiatives, like building a baseball stadium, never come to light” for schools.

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