- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Yet another report of D.C. Public Schools proves what frustrated parents, and other taxpayers and school-choice proponents have said all along: The more money school authorities have at their disposal, the more they waste. The latest examples of mismanagement come as city leaders ponder how best to end flagrant mismanagement.

Proof of the waste comes in various forms. D.C. Auditor Deborah Nichols released a report one week ago today that shows school officials squander funds on cell phones, radios and pagers. For example, DCPS’ Division of Transportation had 900 two-way radios and pagers in fiscal 2001, and increased its number of cellular telephones from 82 to 220. “The auditor’s examination of the acquisition, use and cost of wireless telecommunications services and equipment revealed that DCPS completely mismanaged this function,” the report concluded.

Other audits this year proved that D.C. mismanages its employees’ use of government-issued credit cards and that it also mismanages its special education programs. The consequences are costly. The auditor found in June that, because school officials failed to adhere to longstanding policies and procedures, authorities exposed the school system to “significant fraud, waste and abuse.” In fact, school officials could provide “no documentation” for nearly $1 million in expenditures. An audit in May revealed that mismanaged special-ed programs led to “costly legal fees and exorbitant charges for related services and nonpublic tuition.” Also, The Washington Times reported last week that DCPS failed to spend federal money to help train teachers, and The Washington Post reported yesterday that DCPS forfeited millions of dollars in emergency preparedness funding.

What city leaders learned from school authorities this spring was the most jarring wake-up call of all so far this year: DCPS faced a $65 million deficit and 640 excess employees. Superintendent Paul Vance blamed the “system,” saying, the audit merely revealed “part of the system’s financial conditions that have to be cleared up.”

It would be easy to accept Mr. Vance’s attempts to downplay these egregious management issues but for two simple facts: They all occurred on his watch; and they all eventually affect what does and does not happen inside classrooms.

Several D.C. leaders want Congress to grant the mayor and the council line-item control of the school system’s budget. They need that authority to end the fiscal madness. In recent days, council members Kevin Chavous and David Catania expressed their frustrations and their plans for revamping the dysfunctional system with this page. Mr. Chavous said “the school system will only reform under pressure from the outside.” Mr. Catania, meanwhile, wants to get rid of the “retreads” inside the “unmanageable” system, and said city officials must stop “trying to hold on to a particular system” of school governance. We couldn’t agree more. Let the revolution begin.

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