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Posted at 11:45 PM ET, 01/24/2012

Council rips Henderson on budget overruns

Chancellor Kaya Henderson received a rare beat-down from the D.C. Council Tuesday, administered by members unhappy with what one called “reckless” budget practices that contributed to $21 million in projected DCPS cost overruns.

The $21 million is about half of the $42 million that surfaced last month on the District’s revised revenue forecast. Mayor Vincent C. Gray says DCPS needs the money to relieve “spending pressures” in food service ($12 million) after-school programs ($3.4 million) and non-instructional personnel costs ($5.3 million).

Henderson took full responsibility for the latter two. She said that DCPS has historically underfunded certain budget items, confident that it could make up the balance by finding extra money from other accounts as the fiscal year progressed.

“We knew we had [spending] pressure” on the after-school budget, she said. “We thought it would be manageable. We allowed it to happen.”

Same for about 100 non-instructional employees, which she described as “janitors and all kinds of other folks.” They were part of about 300 staff who were “excessed” -- meaning their jobs were eliminated at the end of the last school year — but were kept on the central office payroll until they could find other spots in the system. Henderson said she was informed by Natwar Gandhi’s office that the cost of all 300 could likely be absorbed by normal attrition and retirement, but by last fall 102 still remained. Henderson did not want to lay them off.

“This was my mistake,” she said. “I didn’t want to open the school year with a RIF [reduction in force].”

Henderson said the food service spending was more complicated. The school system was expecting $30 million in federal reimbursement this year, so it budgeted just $1.4 million in local funds after spending $15 million in FY 2011. But Henderson said DCPS learned just a few weeks ago from OSSE that the $30 million was contingent on serving both after-school snacks and supper. DCPS was serving only supper, and lost about $9 million in anticipated funding.

“It seems to me it was reckless, in view of what had gone on before,” Cheh said of budgeting just $1.4 million in local dollars.

Henderson disagreed. “I would own it if I thought we were reckless. But we had every indication we were going to get the full thirty [million].”

Council member Tommy Wells called it a “major budgeting error,” and questioned why Gandhi’s office managed to let it get by. He also wondered whether the system should get more money--especially in light of protests from public charter schools that they have been cut out of the extra largesse entirely.

“Why should DCPS not have to find the $9 million somewhere within DCPS?” Wells asked.

The council took no action Tuesday, but in the end it’s likely to give DCPS what it wants. D.C. budget and finance director Eric Goulet said that the city would be at risk of violating its anti-deficiency law, which places strict limits on agency overspending. He said anti-deficiency issues could negatively impact the city’s financial standing.

By  |  11:45 PM ET, 01/24/2012

 
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