- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

D.C. public school principals will hand-deliver layoff notices on May 26 to hundreds of teachers, classroom aides and counselors whose departures were approved by the city school board on Tuesday, school administration officials said yesterday.

Karen Jackson, chief human resource officer for D.C. schools, said administrators met with principals yesterday “to explain the process and ensure that it is done in a fair and equitable manner.”

The layoffs eliminate 557 positions, including more than 240 teachers and aides from kindergarten through sixth grade. Interim Superintendent Robert Rice recommended the cuts to close a nearly $31 million deficit.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz yesterday defended the layoffs amid criticism from education advocacy groups that the troubled school district can’t afford to lose teachers.

“We have too many employees for the number of kids we have,” Mrs. Cafritz said. “I think before people demonize us, they should just wait and see. We’re on our way to a better school system.

D.C. schools have one teacher for every 13.8 students, according to 2001-02 school year figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.

By comparison, Baltimore has one teacher for every 15.5 students, Montgomery County has one teacher for every 15.8 students, and Prince George’s County has one teacher for every 16.7 students. In Virginia, Arlington County has one teacher for every 10.6 students; Alexandria, one teacher for every 10.5 students; and Fairfax County, one teacher for every 13 students.

Mrs. Cafritz and school board members Julie Mikuta, Robin Martin and Carrie Thornhill voted for the layoffs. Board members Tommy Wells, William Lockridge and Dwight Singleton opposed the cuts.

“I think it’s going to be devastating,” Iris Toyer of Parents United for the DC Public Schools said of the layoffs. “The school board has not been very good about explaining itself.”

Miss Toyer also criticized a proposal that Mayor Anthony A. Williams is considering to use private corporate donations to contribute to the salary of the next superintendent.

“I think that this is an end around to get control of the schools,” she said. “In terms of public policy, it sets a bad precedent. Where will the person’s loyalties lie, and who will be beholden to that person?”

The idea for seeking private donations to fund the new superintendent’s salary emerged during discussions by a panel reviewing candidates for the position, said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.

“The mayor is saying, ‘We’re not going to take the second- or third-tier candidates,’” Mr. Bullock said. “We don’t want to lose the ability to bring the best candidate … because the District is unable to pay what other cities are willing to pay.”

Mr. Bullock said that, including private donations, a candidate could be offered a salary and compensation package worth about $350,000 per year.

Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said such private-public arrangements are not unprecedented.

“A number of cities have done it over the past 20 years,” he said, citing Atlanta, Jackson, Miss., Portland, Ore., and Memphis as examples.

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