- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

D.C. school officials yesterday conceded that the system has $30 million in unspent federal grants left over from fiscal 2003, but vigorously denied reports that any significant amount of money will revert back to the federal government because of inaction on the part of local administrators.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that knowledgeable sources were concerned that D.C. public schools stood to lose $20 million in professional development grants — money given to help teachers under Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act — if the money was not drawn down from the federal Treasury before midnight yesterday.

John Musso, the newly hired chief financial officer for the city’s schools, said yesterday that the District has $30 million left from an original $95 million allocation that remains unspent. But he said the District was never in danger of losing any significant funding.

“That money will carry over to 2004,” he said.

Both District and Department of Education officials told The Times yesterday that the amount of money that reverted back to the government today was less than $1,000.

“Our records indicate that the only funds that would lapse on Oct 1, 2003, for the District were for a program that helped cover the costs of trailers for nonpublic schools that provided services to Title I students. That total is $512,” said Daniel Langan, press secretary for the Department of Education. “Generally speaking, state education agencies — in this case D.C. — have several years to spend funds that are appropriated.”

In a story that appeared in yesterday’s editions of The Times, local and federal sources said that, in addition to the unspent $20 million for training, school officials had not yet touched $3.8 million in formula and discretionary grants from 27 federal awards.

Local school officials, who could not comment on the unspent funds Monday, were adamant yesterday that the federal funds had been drawn down from the Treasury and were being handled properly.

The federal grants for teacher training do not total $20 million, officials said, but $13.9 million. Of that, the District has spent $7.5 million and the remainder will roll over.

But on Monday, the District school official in charge of programs that would use the training funds, Gerald Knight, told The Times that he “didn’t know” what would happen to the millions in training funds if they remained unspent.

“No one has figured it out. You would have to ask the Department of Education; they set policy as to what will happen,” Mr. Knight said.

He said any further questions would have to go through the public schools’ communications office.

Yesterday, several school officials strongly denied the story’s assertion that any of the federal funds were at risk — though sources told The Times that as late as Sept. 22, the $3.8 million in formula and discretionary funds had gone untouched and would revert back to the government last night.

District officials would neither confirm nor deny that administrators had taken steps in recent days to avert that, but the Department of Education told The Times that when the deadline passed last night, the District had only lost $512.

Robert Rice, chief of academic affairs for the school system, told The Times that it was possible — although he wasn’t sure — that the $3.8 million would be lost, but said he had no knowledge of an additional $20 million for professional development.

He said that the most money the office had available was $1.25 million.

But a confidential financial printout from an Education Department report shown to The Times indicates that as of Sept. 22, the public schools had not drawn down the $3.8 million.

A D.C. public school official said last night: “I’m sure we have drawn down the money, but I cannot verify it right now.”

In discussions with school officials Monday, there was confusion as to who is responsible for drawing down money from the federal Treasury.

The contracting source indicated that the D.C. Council had drawn the money down late and had only transferred it to the schools in the first week of September, a statement that Mr. Rice and Mr. Knight said was correct, although Mr. Rice indicated that the mayor’s office may also play a role.

Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Education Committee, flatly denied the claim, saying, “[the council] has nothing to do” with drawing down money or acting as a buffer between the federal government grant funding to the schools.

School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said the process by which funds are drawn is: The federal government makes the funds available, the school system then creates a program and develops its budget, then “encumbers” the funds that the D.C. chief financial officer draws down.

She said the CFO [Natwar M. Gandhi] then reports the draw down to Mr. Chavous, head of the education committee.

Officials in Mr. Gandhi’s office said they would provide information today as to whether the $3.8 million was drawn down in the past two weeks.

Mrs. Cafritz said that there has been an issue for many years about the timeliness of the CFO drawing funds from the Treasury and getting it to the schools.

“A key problem has been that the CFO hasn’t drawn down money fast enough for the school system,” she said.

Mrs. Cafritz called the process “ridiculous” and “one that other states don’t go through,” but added that it has improved “tremendously” in recent years.

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