- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The D.C. school board last night voted to cut 557 jobs — 285 of them teaching positions — to help the troubled school system close a nearly $31 million deficit.

The layoffs are a continuation of the teaching and administrative job cuts that the school board considered in December to balance the budget, said John Musso, the school system’s chief financial officer.

“The defects that created the deficit still exist,” Mr. Musso told the board last night.

A bailout by the D.C. Council in January avoided midyear layoffs, but school administrators said the additional funding only delayed the job cuts until now.

Interim schools Superintendent Robert Rice recommended the cuts.

Among the jobs to be cut are counselors, custodians, librarians and school-based administrators. Of the 285 jobs cut, many are language, art, music and physical-education teaching positions.

The new layoffs “will address a long-standing structural budgetary problem that has been created by the declining and redistribution of student enrollment,” Mr. Rice said in his recommendation.

William Wilhoyte, assistant superintendent, called the cuts difficult but necessary.

“The task we have to do is very difficult in a very personal and real way,” he said.

School board member William Lockridge, who voted against the cuts, said the school system can’t afford to lose any teachers.

“If we’re losing all of these teachers we need to have, then how are we going to build a world-class school district on a shoestring budget?” Mr. Lockridge said.

Mr. Wilhoyte said it’s possible that some smaller schools will have students in more than one grade combined into single classrooms as a result of the reduction in the number of teachers.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who voted in favor of the cuts, told system administrators to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The board made it very clear that that could not be an outcome,” Mrs. Cafritz said. “That cannot be. This is not Mississippi in 1957.”

The public schools’ student population has declined heavily in recent years, down to about 65,000 at the start of this school year. About 13,000 students have opted to attend the city’s 37 public charter schools, and an additional 1,700 low-income students will be eligible to enroll in private schools under a federal voucher program beginning in the fall. Meanwhile, the school system’s operating budget has climbed to $771.6 million.

According to a National Assessment of Educational Process report last year, D.C. students in all grades are falling behind their peers in other jurisdictions, even though the District spent an average of $9,650 per pupil in 2001 — the second-highest per-pupil expenditure in the country. Only New Jersey spent more per student — $10,145. About 33 percent of D.C. public school students drop out before high school graduation.

Administrators said the cuts continue the “position-abolishment process” that began in December, when they announced plans to eliminate 771 teaching and administrative jobs throughout the school system.

Mr. Musso said 27 positions already have been eliminated in the central administrative office, saving $1.6 million.

The announcement in December prompted widespread protests and letter-writing campaigns from hundreds of teachers, parents and activists to school officials and politicians.

Members of education-advocacy groups, teachers and parents filled the board meeting room last night to watch the board debate the proposed cuts.

“I think this is devastating,” said Margot Berkey of Parents United for D.C. Public Schools. “I’m not sure the board has a grasp on the full impact of this.”

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