Council, DCPS Disagree Over Funding

Reyna S. Walters | 5/20/2009, 2:45 p.m.

The D.C. Council alleged in a budget meeting that the Mayor€s 2010 budget inflated District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) enrollment figures by approximately 3,000 students.

To address the imbalance, the Council proposed to delay $27.5 million in DCPS funding, pending an audit of actual student enrollment numbers. The Council€s proposal has set off a flurry of letters and public comment on the issue.

€These funds will be made available upon receipt of the certified public school enrollment census that will be available in October 2009, approximately two weeks into the fiscal year,€ Council Chair Vincent C. Gray told DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

The October census results would come almost two months after the start of the school year, which begins in August.

There is a decade long trend of declining enrollment in DCPS. Despite the previous decline, DCPS officials believe that factors such as the addition of pre-school and pre-kindergarten programs and a weak economy will boost enrollment.

However, council members and staff have not been convinced.

€We have tried hard to figure out where these students were coming from,€ Gray said. €They are not coming from DCPS or charters because those students have all been accounted for.€

Despite questioning other city officials, the Council has not heard an explanation that it feels justifies the funding.

€Let me make something perfectly clear, the Council is not cutting any money from any schools,€ Gray said at the recent budget meeting. €It is simply saying that we need more information.€

Rhee appeared to disagree. After last week€s Council meeting, Rhee sent two letters to Gray threatening to cut 338 teachers and a reduction of funding by approximately $623 per student if the $27.5 million were not restored.

€While [the funding] may be restored well after the school year opens, it is simply too late to staff schools,€ Rhee said.

Rhee said to adequately prepare for an enrollment increase, the DCPS must hire teachers now.

News of the potential teacher and student funding reductions came as a surprise to many in the John A. Wilson Building.

€Council budget and legislative staff, in carefully going through the budget delivered by the Mayor in March, could not determine the source of the student increase,€ said Doxie McCoy, Communications Director and spokesperson for Gray.

€It was not until Tues., [May 12] as the Council was voting on the budget did the Chancellor reveal a potential teacher reduction. Therefore, the Council could not consider information it did not have.€

Instead of using the drastic measures outlined in Rhee€s letters, McCoy suggests that the Chancellor find alternative sources of funding, such as drawing on federal funds recently announced by the Obama administration.

€If DCPS is certain the audit will verify the higher numbers, then it should not resort to threatening measures that detrimentally impact students and schools,€ McCoy said. €When the numbers are verified, the Chairman is prepared to expeditiously take action to deliver the set-aside funds to DCPS.€

For Gray, the issue comes down to one of fairness.

€Through this action, the Council is asking whether any school, traditional or charter, should receive funding for students it does not have.€
Reyna S. Walters can be reached at queensimone1908@aol.com.