- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty plans to spend $81 million in recently certified surplus revenue on city schools after an audit revealed that poor accountability led spending to be “dramatically understated” this year, officials said yesterday.

“We have uncovered a lot of mismanagement in the District of Columbia public school system,” Mr. Fenty said. “This latest discussion is about mismanagement in the area of finances.”

A summary of an audit commissioned earlier this year by Mr. Fenty and State Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb said the 52,000-student school system’s fiscal 2008 budget of $1.25 billion will fall about $155 million short.

The Fenty administration said the auditing firm of Alvarez & Marsals discovered $74 million in savings, which cut the budget gap to $81 million. The firm said the budget shortfall stemmed from poor personnel management and inefficient operations.

The mayor yesterday said he intends to ask the D.C. Council for money from the city’s $100 million surplus to close the gap, which the mayor’s office called “one-time costs to right-size the system.”

The audit found that school-support services, such as utilities, food service and security, are operating over budget and draining funds from the system, which it says is funded for 3,000 fewer students than are enrolled.

The audit also found that the school system lacks reliable mechanisms to track employees, and that departmental budgets “contain personnel who do not exist on the District’s consolidated budget and vice versa.”

D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who has prioritized streamlining operations at the school system’s central office since she was hired in June, has said she found that the office was disorganized and that many employees could not tell her what their jobs were.

“The situation we have uncovered in the last few months is much more dire than we originally thought,” Mrs. Rhee said yesterday.

She said that after months of trying to get a count of how many persons worked in the central office, she has determined the number is 914.

Mrs. Rhee in August asked the D.C. Council for more power over personnel, including hiring and firing power. The mayor’s office is in the process of drafting legislation that would give her that authority.

Mrs. Rhee said yesterday that she expects to cut 200 positions, some of which are already vacant, in the central office to make the administration more efficient.

Mr. Fenty yesterday was flanked by several council members when he made the announcement at the John A. Wilson Building.

However, council member Marion Barry sent a harsh letter to Mr. Fenty saying the mayor’s staff notified him of the plan only a day before the announcement and provided few details. Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, later said he supported the plan but criticized the mayor’s earlier testimony in which he said the school system’s budget was sufficient.

“Mr. Fenty repeatedly assured us that there was enough money in the ‘08 budget,” Mr. Barry said. “At that time, the mayor should have had some idea of the extent of the problem.”

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