Principals at public schools in the District have identified 395 teaching and other staff positions that they may have to cut to pay for teachers' raises anticipated in next year's budget, the chairman of the D.C. Council's education committee said at a hearing yesterday.
In making the announcement, council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) voiced concern that individual schools might have to absorb so many layoffs on top of the staff cuts they experienced last year.
The schools cut a total of 527 teachers, librarians, guidance counselors and other employees last year to pay for a 9 percent teacher pay raise that was not factored into the operating budget. Similarly, next year's proposed budget does not take into account the annual step increases teachers will be owed, Patterson said.
"According to information coming in to us, a number of schools will experience staff cuts on top of the cuts last year," Patterson said at the hearing, which focused on the proposed $800 million school operating budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. "We cannot afford additional bleeding at the local level."
Patterson added that the number of potential cuts could become even higher than 395, because school officials also have not budgeted for salary increases they will have to pay under new contracts being negotiated with unions for teachers, principals and other employees.
In response, school officials acknowledged that the figure Patterson gave was contained in a preliminary report issued by Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to the school board and to some council members late last week. But they stressed that the school system is far from determining how many staff cuts, if any, will be required.
Janey said he is seeking more money from the city for higher salaries.
"The intent is to bring the leadership of the council and mayor together to seek additional funds so ultimately we are not putting schools in jeopardy," Janey said at the hearing. "We don't want to see collective bargaining trump schools so they have to release teachers."
Board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham asked council members to revising the city's per-pupil funding formula so that the system will have enough money to fund staff raises.
"The current formula does not include labor increases," Graham said. "As a result of the inadequacy of [the formula], schools have had to make difficult decisions between cutting their core educational programs or cutting music, art and library programs."
In interviews after the hearing, school officials expressed dismay that the figure of 395 positions, yet to be vetted by the school board, had been released to the public.
Patterson directed school officials to report back to her by next month with firmer figures on potential cuts and their impact on the quality of education.
George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said school system officials have notified the union that about 93 teachers have been identified by principals as potential targets for cuts. But Parker said he believes there will be enough vacancies so that any teacher who loses a job will be able to fill an open position somewhere else in the system.
Still, he said, "it will be difficult to justify to the workforce at this time that the school system has to cut positions, especially at a time when the city has a surplus. This will be a real test of our political leaders to demonstrate their commitment to quality education."
Nicole Conley, director of resource allocation and management for the school system, warned that if the city does not provide money for the current step increases for teachers and the pay raises in new contracts, school officials may have to identify more than 395 positions to be cut.
Without more money, "you'd see this number go up even more," Conley said. "We can't expect schools to cut more. It would be very difficult for them to sustain their programs."