- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

D.C. Public Schools officials yesterday said they will partner with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration in an effort to rework the budget for the public school system — a compromise that comes as control of the schools likely will be handed to the mayor in the coming months.

“We are committed to reorienting the board in support of the transition and working collaboratively with the mayor and council to bring forward a consensus budget for DCPS that works for the children it is serving,” Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb said in testimony before the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole.

Mr. Fenty’s fiscal 2008 budget proposal calls for a 4.2 percent increase in funding for public education to $1.25 billion, up from $1.2 billion in fiscal 2007.

The budget decreases local funds for the public school system from $808 million to $796 million. It also sets aside $30 million to help with the transfer of state education functions from DCPS to the mayor’s State Education Office.

The Board of Education had requested about $850 million in funding for next year. But yesterday’s budget hearing came just two days after the council gave initial approval to shifting control of the school system from the school board and superintendent to the mayor’s office.

“In light of the new direction,” Mr. Bobb said, officials agreed to work collaboratively toward a line-item budget that fits within Mr. Fenty’s overall mark.

“I am confident that working together, we can get there responsibly and efficiently,” Mr. Bobb said.

Victor Reinoso, Mr. Fenty’s deputy mayor for education, said a forensic audit of school finances will be conducted to help evaluate future plans for school spending.

Mr. Reinoso stressed that an increase in overall spending to Mr. Fenty’s school budget proposal is unlikely unless the audit finds that the currently proposed funding is insufficient. But he did say that money allocated to local schools — roughly $403 million — would not decrease.

“We just want to make sure that we’re on the same page and there isn’t this whole ‘us-versus-them’ lens on the budget,” Mr. Reinoso said.

The budget proposals of the school board and Mr. Fenty’s office have differed on amounts as well as how to determine per-pupil spending.

Mr. Fenty’s budget proposes using the projected enrollment for the next school year to determine per-pupil spending, instead of using the current method of basing spending on the prior year’s enrollment figures.

Administration officials say enrollment in the public school system is projected to decrease by about 3,000 students from an estimated 55,000 students, and the shift in the funding mechanism will save $25.6 million.

But school officials say that approach could leave the system scrambling to fund unexpected increases in enrollment or not being able to pay for hiring teachers who may be needed.

“It is risky for a system of our size to change this approach,” Superintendent Clifford B. Janey told the council.

Mr. Reinoso said the mayor’s budget sets aside about $8 million in a nondepartmental fund to cover such cost overruns.

The council is expected to vote on Mr. Fenty’s budget May 15.

Mr. Reinoso said the forensic audit will not be completed at that point, but officials would return to the council at a later date with any proposed changes.

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