- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

When Superintendent Clifford B. Janey released his fiscal 2006 budget, the request was $1.02 billion — the largest school-budget request in city history. Mr. Janey said he would “put funding where it is needed to improve academic performance. This means allocating money to pay for and retain excellent teachers.” That is what the superintendent said on Jan. 13. Last week, parents and City Hall learned that the $1.02 billion does not include raises for teachers. The “accounting mistake” is no mistake at all.

In fact, it is the second year in a row that the Board of Education and the superintendent have submitted a budget that excluded raises. In 2004, the board directed school administrators to close a $40 million budget gap. This year, precisely 12 months later, authorities need an estimated $26 million to cover raises. Moreover, the board was warned that the deficits would resurface each year until the “defects” causing them are corrected. As interim Superintendent Robert Rice told the school board in May 2004: “Those defects must be cured in FY 04.” Yet, the financial charades — and threats of teacher layoffs — continue.

We hardly are in position to advise school authorities on which individual employees should receive a pink slip. However, we support the council proposition that there’s plenty of fat to be trimmed in central administration. The rationale that 300-plus teachers can be pulled from classrooms while improving “academic performance” is simply preposterous. That schools in Ward 8, the city’s poorest ward, would be hardest hit is unconscionable.

A positive development occurred last week when the board agreed to sell or lease facilities to charter schools. But we do not want the potential revenue poured into the school system’s porous coffers. The board’s move is positive because, as more and more parents become frustrated with the slow pace of reforms and the board’s repeated failures to correct “defects” made by its own hands, charter schools for families in Ward 8 and elsewhere provide the only alternative.

Until the mayor and the council take direct control of the school system, the political shenanigans at school-system headquarters will surface at every turn. As Council member Vince Gray said, “[W]e have to get to a point of confidence that we’re not going to be in this crisis every year.”

It’s no coincidence that, one month prior to seeking final approval from City Hall, school officials “discover” a $26 million pay-raise gap. For too long the school board, particularly under board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, has dared City Hall on school funding. The court forced City Hall to fund the raises in 2003. The council and the mayor bailed out school officials in 2004.

This time, City Hall must stiffen its spine and tell the “independent” school board to straighten out its own “crisis.”

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