- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

D.C. public schools officials are considering cutting hundreds of jobs in the troubled system, even as school officials in Baltimore plan to lay off as many as 1,000 employees.

What happened in the financially strapped school system in Baltimore “can certainly happen here,” said John Musso, chief financial officer for D.C. public schools. “Clearly, reduction in staff could be a possibility.”

Mr. Musso said as many as 400 D.C. school employees could lose their jobs after school officials meet next week to decide how to close an estimated $21 million deficit.

In Baltimore, between 800 and 1,000 school employees will lose their jobs by Thanksgiving, said Bonnie S. Copeland, chief executive officer for the school district.

The layoffs in Baltimore came in response to a study conducted by former state Sen. Robert R. Neall, Anne Arundel County Democrat, who was hired by the city school system. Mr. Neall recommended the staff cuts in the face of a $52 million deficit.

“I think the administration is far too big for the size enrollment we have,” Mr. Neall said.

Despite the apparent overspending, Baltimore still lags the District in administrative costs, according to the federal National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is based in the District.

The NCES shows that D.C. schools spent $1,080 per student on administration in the 2001-2002 academic year, compared with $1,004 per student in Baltimore. Overall, the District spends $12,137 per student, and Baltimore spends $8,568. The national average is $8,896.

The District has 68,449 students, compared with Baltimore’s 97,817. Yet, the District employs more workers than the Baltimore school system, according to the NCES. D.C. schools employed 11,390 workers in 2001-2002, while Baltimore had 10,660 employees.

What’s more, Baltimore has about 2,000 more teachers than other school personnel, while the District has about 1,500 fewer teachers than other personnel.

D.C. officials explain the disparity in workers by noting that the District, which is not a state, must nonetheless provide statelike services that other cities, like Baltimore, do not. The state of Maryland oversees Baltimore’s school system.

Still, some D.C. officials said the statistics in the NCES report reflect a need to reduce the school system’s administrative costs.

“We’re dealing with some of the same challenges [as Baltimore],” said Dennis Campbell, committee clerk for D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the council’s Education Committee.

“I think there is some real concern about whether or not the [D.C. schools] administration is bloated,” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s not so much that something duplicitous has occurred, but there probably needs to be some kind of streamlining.”

Mr. Campbell said council members are watching to see how Baltimore handles its own financial crisis. “Baltimore is going to be pared down,” he said. “Does that mean central administration [in the D.C. school system] is going to be pared down, too? We’re looking closely at that.”

However, some D.C. officials warn against drawing too many parallels between the two cities. “Baltimore has the benefit of a state that funds the schools and we don’t have that,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“But if you were going to ask whether there are too many administrative positions [in the District], I think most people would say the answer is yes,” Mr. Bullock said.

Mr. Williams recently has been a tough critic of D.C. public schools, arguing for private-school voucher program and proposing to strip the D.C. Board of Education of most of its power. Board members and city officials routinely bicker over budgetary issues.

However, Mr. Bullock said city officials recognize some progress by the Board of Education in reducing administrative spending over the past several years.

“In the past few years, the D.C. public schools system has eliminated a number of administrative positions,” Mr. Bullock said. “However, I’m sure that there are several members on the council who would opine that they could still do a little more.”

School officials in Baltimore said they had no other choice but to make the cuts, after years in which the system faced criticism for administrative budget overruns.

“Eighty percent of the budget is personnel, so you have to take some personnel actions to get the payroll under control,” Mr. Neall said.

“Ultimately,” Mr. Neall said, “that’s going to involve sweeping and radical changes.”

Tarron Lively contributed to this report.


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