Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The D.C. public school system would curtail hiring new teachers so those positions could be filled by employees who face losing their jobs because of a budget shortfall, an official said yesterday.

“I think we’d still be able to place most of these teachers,” said Tony Demasi, the school system’s acting director of human resources.

The plan follows the discovery by officials that scheduled salary increases were not included in each school’s annual budgets.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday said he was “skeptically sympathetic” about the situation, considering the school system’s continuous budget problems.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

For the second year in a row, the system is faced with cutting hundreds of jobs because an accounting problem in which scheduled pay raises were not factored into budgets.

This year’s shortfall is the result of school budgets including a 3.07 percent increase for personnel costs, while the average salary increase for teachers is 4.7 percent.

The council narrowly rejected a proposal Tuesday by D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, to redirect $10.7 million from other city budgets to offset the job cuts.

Mr. Demasi said the school system continues to work with the council to find another solution.

Documents circulated among council members prior to the vote Tuesday showed Ward 8 would lose about 25 percent of the 306 job cuts under consideration.

The documents, which do not list individual schools, show 78 positions in the ward would be cut, including 41 teacher positions.

Ward 6 would lose 56 positions and Ward 4 would lose 43.

Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, who was not present for the Tuesday vote, said yesterday he is confident that teachers will not lose their jobs.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said after visiting students at Ballou High School in Southeast, his alma mater. “We’re going to find a way out of this.”

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, also did not attend the Tuesday council hearing. Mr. Gray said he wants to know whether money can be found through other sources.

“We’ll still have two or three opportunities to address this before we approve the budget in May,” he said. “If we’re going to restore the public schools to a position of prominence, we have to invest in the human resources to do that. On the other hand, we have to get to a point of confidence that we’re not going to be in this crisis every year.”

Several council members who voted Tuesday expressed frustration with the school system’s central office, calling for administrative job cuts and salary reductions rather than teacher layoffs.

School board documents show that, in 2005, 88.32 percent of the school system’s personnel funding went to employees in instructional jobs, 6.88 percent for support, 2.55 percent for central office and 2.25 percent for state support.

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