- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

Superintendent Clifford Janey proposed a $1 billion D.C. school budget last week. Ninety-two percent of the money won’t reach the overwhelming majority of the system’s 64,000 students, however, since 62 percent is slotted for personnel costs and 30 percent is slotted for special education. The sum equals a disappointing (and expensive) plan that focuses on teachers and spending instead of teaching and learning.

We had reserved criticism of Mr. Janey, who took over in September, until he gave us a clear sign of where he wanted to take D.C. Public Schools. The first sign came Jan. 12, when he unveiled his spending plan for the budget year that begins in October. Conceding that he will need far more than $1 billion, the superintendent said he will look to City Hall to fund his unfunded initiatives. The costliest of those initiatives would spend $32 million on summer school for eighth- and ninth-graders. We don’t doubt that rising middle- and junior-high-school students need more preparation to meet the rigors of high school. But those preparations are supposed to be carried out during the course of the regular school year, with summer school reserved for a small number of students. Indeed, tens of millions of dollars are spent each year on summer school, yet student performance remains flat. Principals, teachers and other school personnel — or more precisely, their paychecks — remain the primary beneficiaries of summer programs.

That Mr. Janey has left nearly $45 million worth of school initiatives unfunded means he may already have fallen back into his own bad leadership habits.

Mr. Janey’s prior superintendency was in Rochester, N.Y., where, to his credit, he improved reading and math scores, and helped ease a gripping court decree regarding special education during his seven years there. Still, as we said in August of last year, when D.C. officials announced the Janey appointment, “we are seriously concerned that Mr. Janey left Rochester schools with a $45 million deficit.” It is indeed worth noting that $45 million is the same dollar amount needed to fund Mr. Janey’s unfunded initiatives.

In a March 2002 special report by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Mr. Janey, his supporters and his detractors had plenty to say about “what went wrong” there. The article said critics charged that “Janey and the school board did not adequately oversee the budget process, contract negotiations and district spending,” that his administration “relied too heavily” on state aid and that it was “unprepared for any shortfall.” The article also said that Mr. Janey crafted new initiatives “with relatively little concern about how to pay for them.”

As for his D.C. school budget, Mr. Janey said: The bottom line for this budget is to put funding where it is needed to improve academic performance. This means allocating money to pay for and retain excellent teachers, giving them the administrative and technological support they need and offering them the very best on-going professional development.”

D.C. parents and taxpayers have heard similar remarks from other superintendents, yet the end results of the rhetoric and spending remain the same. In fact, Education Week, in its recently-released report “No Small Change,” said that the District beats each of the 50 states when it comes to per-pupil spending. The figure: $11,269. The premium cost does not justify the end results.

As usual, we urge the mayor and the D.C. Council to thoroughly scrub the budget numbers and vet the educational policies to ensure that D.C. taxpayers and students get the best academic deal for that $11,269 per-pupil cost. The heaviest lifting will fall to the Education Committee, which has a new chairman, Kathy Patterson, and two new members, Marion Barry and Vincent Gray — all liberal Democrats. Mrs. Patterson represents some of the District’s wealthiest taxpayers in Northwest, and Messrs. Barry and Gray represent many of its poorest on the eastern side of the Anacostia River. We hope they and other elected leaders — including those on the school board — don’t fall for Mr. Janey’s mimicry.

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