- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The D.C. Council yesterday found an additional $15.1 million to save 306 teacher jobs after delaying budget negotiations for more than an hour.

The council decided to bail out the school system for a second year in a row by using money from funds that could have been used for raises next year.

“The school system wanted $25 million more to help with collective bargaining,” said council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and a key architect of the deal. “So they are going to have to look to their own budget for that.”

Still, Superintendent Clifford B. Janey lauded the fiscal 2006 budget of $7 billion, which includes a nearly $40 million surplus.

“Without council’s help today, [public schools] could have been forced to reduce teacher positions in the new school year — setting back our work to provide high-quality educational opportunities for all children,” Mr. Janey said.

George Parker, president of the more-than-4,000-member Washington Teachers Union, also praised the council’s action but voiced concern about the $25 million still needed for collective bargaining.

“I think that the council action to provide some additional funding to ensure that there are no cuts at the local schools was a positive step,” he said. “We will leave it to the political leaders to debate the source of funding for teachers’ pay raises. However, we clearly expect a pay raise for our teachers, because they deserve it.”

The council also set aside about $11 million to pay for school repairs, with Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, calling for unused school buildings to be shut down or consolidated.

“We continue to demand fiscal discipline,” she said after nearly two hours of closed-door talks. “Today, we have passed a fiscally prudent budget with a strong cash reserve.”

The surplus that comes in this year would be used for a list of priorities, including tax breaks for homeowners.

Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the two-cent reduction — from 96 cents to 94 cents per $100 of assessed value — would be the first time the city has cut the property tax rate since 1990.

The tax cap also would be reduced to limit increases to 10 percent per year — regardless of rising property values.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said cutting property taxes would help alleviate the pressure of rising home values “to keep people from being taxed out of the city.”

But others rejected the notion that tax rates would force people out.

“There’s no huge cry from the public,” said council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat.

The budget now goes to Congress for review and to President Bush for final approval.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams congratulated the 13-member council for agreeing with “95 percent” of his recommendations but said he was concerned about the council using the entire surplus for programs that add permanent programs to the city’s budget.

“I’d have preferred to spend some of the surplus on critical road-paving projects in all eight wards — one-time expenses that would immediately benefit residents and visitors but not create additional budget pressures,” he said. “I also worry that council cuts to the budgets for the Department of Corrections and for the Child and Family Services Agency may not be in the best interests of our residents, but I will defer to the council for now.”

Mrs. Cropp, however, said the budget includes additional money for tax relief, the paving of streets, affordable housing and substance-abuse treatment.

Last year, similar budget problems led to more than 500 job cuts, including those of hundreds of teachers. The teachers union filed a lawsuit in response. The union said the case is still in litigation.

The Washington Times reported last month that several central office administrators are earning significantly higher salaries this year. For example, former acting Superintendent Robert C. Rice is making $175,000 a year in a position created for him as a special assistant to Mr. Janey, records show. Last year, he earned $124,923 as an assistant superintendent for standards and curriculum.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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