- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s takeover of the public school system would cost the city $86.5 million over four years, but could be funded through the mayor’s proposed budget and financial plan, officials said.

In a financial analysis dated Monday, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi told D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray that “funds are sufficient in [the mayor’s plan] to implement the provisions of the proposed legislation as introduced.”

However, Mr. Gandhi cautioned that his office’s study “focuses only on the implications of the restructuring” of the education system under Mr. Fenty’s proposal and does not take into account later decisions that may be made by the mayor’s office under the reform.

“It’s all done within the framework as it has currently been laid out by the mayor,” said Maryann Young, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gandhi. “They’re still working on some of the details of the legislation, but in terms of the fiscal impact, our analysis shows there are sufficient funds both in the current proposed budget, and we think we have identified what’s going to be needed in the future.”

If Mr. Fenty’s proposal is implemented by October, the undertaking would cost $28.4 million in fiscal 2008. For the entire four-year period of fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2011, the total would be $86.5 million, Mr. Gandhi said.

One of the most complicated and potentially costly portions of the takeover is Mr. Fenty’s proposal to transfer all “state-level” education functions currently performed by the public school system, the University of the District of Columbia and the Department of Human Services to the State Education Office.

The reorganization comes with moving costs, turnover rates and legal strings attached that limit the amount of funds that can be transferred from the public school system to the State Education Office.

Mr. Gandhi estimated the cost to restructure the agency at $26.6 million in fiscal 2008, and noted that Mr. Fenty allocated up to $30.5 million in his fiscal 2008 budget proposal that could be used to pay for such costs.

But he also noted that Mr. Fenty’s proposal gives officials 90 days to identify recurring costs of the restructuring, which could affect the overall cost of the move.

Critics of Mr. Fenty’s proposal also have questioned the costs associated with creating an independent authority to manage school facilities and construction.

Mr. Gandhi, in his report, said creating the authority would cost at least $1.8 million in fiscal 2008 and would be feasible through Mr. Fenty’s $30.5 million set-aside.

However, the CFO’s analysis said that Mr. Fenty’s office is still working on an organizational chart and a budget for the new authority. Mr. Gray said he had not thoroughly looked through the fiscal impact statement but that he was concerned about what the construction authority could cost.

“It’s just unclear what the capacity of this thing will be,” said Mr. Gray, a Democrat. “There’s a lot of work yet to be done on this.”

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he didn’t question Mr. Gandhi’s fiscal analysis of the mayoral takeover, but said that costs would likely escalate later for the move.

“I believe to make the difference the mayor’s promised, [it’s] going to cost a lot more,” Mr. Mendelson said.

The council also heard from a panel of witnesses testifying on the takeover yesterday, the culmination of roughly 70 hours of testimony on the mayor’s proposal. The hearing was the final one scheduled before members take a preliminary vote on Mr. Fenty’s proposal on April 3.

Mr. Fenty’s proposed takeover would require the approval of both the council and Congress. It would elevate the public school system to a Cabinet-level agency managed by the mayor’s office and headed by a schools chancellor.

The plan also would create a Department of Education to run the school system and would place the current Board of Education in an advisory role, among other measures.

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