- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

D.C. elementary schools will be particularly hard hit by the layoffs the D.C. school board approved earlier this week as nearly half the more than 500 cuts target teachers and classroom aides in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The school board voted 4-3 Tuesday night to cut a total of 557 jobs — 285 teaching positions not including classroom aides — in elementary through high schools, including middle and transformation schools, as recommended by interim schools Superintendent Robert Rice.

Mr. Rice said the cuts were required to close a nearly $31 million budget gap.

The D.C. Public Schools system yesterday released figures showing that of the 557 jobs eliminated by the board, about 245 are held by teachers and aides in elementary schools.

The layoffs will eliminate 115.5 classroom teaching positions in elementary schools, which also will lose 61.2 teaching slots in subjects such as reading, science, computers, math, music, art, Spanish and physical education. In addition, elementary schools must cut 63 education aides and 5.5 computer aides.

Principals say they are still waiting to learn from school system administrators how many teachers each school will lose through the layoffs.

“I think it’s safe to say that every school in the District will lose teachers,” said Josie Paige, principal of M.M. Washington Career High School in Northwest, in Ward 5. “You just deal with it the best you can.”

Donnie Rutledge, principal of Burrville Elementary School in Northeast, in Ward 7, said he expects to learn more when he and other principals meet with administration officials this week.

“I hope something can be done,” Mr. Rutledge said. “We’re cut to the limit already.”

George Springer, administrator for the Washington Teachers Union, blamed the layoffs on a lack of funding from D.C. government.

“The mayor and the City Council have little trust in the school board, and therefore they keep withholding funds that result in inadequate budgets,” Mr. Springer said.

“But I’m not assuming what is being proposed is going to happen. You can expect that we’re going to fight this. We’re not going to take it lying down.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that schools must “live within their means.”

“My hope is that, with the cuts that have to be made here, we are pointing ourselves down the road where we can actually look at these fundamental issues that are driving the schools’ budget … as opposed to the number of teachers, which I don’t think is really the major issue,” Mr. Williams said.

D.C. school administrators said Tuesday night that the layoffs continued a round of job cuts the school board considered in December. A bailout by the D.C. Council averted mid-year layoffs, but Mr. Rice said that only delayed the job cuts until now.

In his recommendation, Mr. Rice said the layoffs “address a long-standing structural budgetary problem that has been created by the declining student enrollment.”

Student enrollment in D.C. public schools has dropped from nearly 70,000 students in the 1999-2000 school year to about 65,000 at the start of the 2003-04 school year, according to the school system’s annual enrollment counts.

Board members who voted against the cuts were Tommy Wells, William Lockridge and Dwight Singleton. School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and board members Julie Mikuta, Robin Martin and Carrie Thornhill voted in favor of the layoffs.

The job cuts coincide with the school board’s search for a new superintendent to replace Paul Vance, who resigned in November.

Rudolph F. Crew, former chancellor of New York City schools, reportedly has received an offer of about $350,000 in salary and bonuses to take over as D.C. schools superintendent, according to a report by the Miami Herald. Mr. Crew has interviewed for the superintendent’s job with the Miami-Dade school district.

• Matthew Cella contributed to this article.

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