- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, in a meeting yesterday with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, said he is fed up with excuses from D.C. Public Schools administrators and board members.

“For years, I believed that if we gave the schools enough money, they would reform themselves,” Mr. Chavous said. “I now see that the school system will only reform under pressure from the outside — and that is through school choice.”

The Ward 7 Democrat is chairman of the council’s Committee on Education. He said he plans to introduce a bill designed to improve the management and curriculum of the public schools

Mr. Chavous is in agreement with Mayor Anthony A. Williams that vouchers would force failing schools to compete and that the competition will breed results.

But the $13 million voucher program, which has been pulled off the floor of the Senate, may not be enough, he said.

That proposal, if approved by Congress, would give needy parents up to $7,500 to send their children to their preferred private school. Mr. Chavous said the bill would create a local body that would monitor the private schools to ensure that they are complying with the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act.

“The Department of Education, in a hearing last December, said we failed in all 27 areas of the act,” Mr. Chavous said. “And money is not the problem.”

A recent analysis of the city’s education budgets over the past five years compared with enrollment statistics revealed a startling trend.

The analysis, conducted by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, shows that for five years, the system’s budget had gone up by 9 percent in 1999, 5 percent in 2000 and 2001, 8 percent in 2003, and a scheduled increase of 3 percent next year. It adds up to a budget increase of 34 percent over five years.

At the same time, enrollment has declined from 77,111 students in 1999 to 64,272 in the 2004 fiscal year — a decrease of 17 percent.

Mr. Chavous said part of the problem is the proliferation of administrators and administration staff. The system currently has more than 1,000 nonteachers working inside public schools headquarters at 801 N. Capitol St. NE. At least 50 of those employees make more than $100,000.

Mr. Chavous said he will also introduce a bill that would empower local school to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

“That is what my bill is for and I think we have the votes to pass it,” he said.

The bill would allow a handful of schools that have exhibited a strong curriculum and a habit of responsible spending such as “Benjamin Banneker, Jefferson and a few others” to “run themselves,” he said.

Mr. Chavous said 40 percent to 50 percent of District schools need help to reach that level and his bill would target those schools and give them immediate help.

“When I visit schools today, teachers and principals are still buying toilet paper with money out of their own pocket because the folks downtown haven’t signed off on the money,” he said.

In terms of the ability to apply for federal grants and maximize their use, the council member wants school principals to be more involved.

“We need to approach the 146 principals we have and ask them what kinds of programs they need for their school, be it reading programs, after-school programs, vocational training. But there is a real disconnect between the schools and the central administration,” he said.

The schools are losing their battle for independence with the mayor asking once again for total control, and the council looking for direct budget authority.

“I want to be clear that I support the schools having their own chief financial officer who does not have to report to the city’s CFO Natwar M. Gandhi. But they had one. Whenever we audited them, there was overspending and incoherent numbers,” he said.

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