Charter Schools, D.C. Board Welcome Cash

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005

D.C. Board of Education members, who are struggling to find money to build new schools and to avoid a repeat of last year's widespread staff cuts at the schools, expressed relief yesterday at Mayor Anthony A. Williams's decision to allocate an additional $21 million to the system.

"It's sweet news to my ears," said board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham, who was appointed by Williams (D) in 2004. "This will help us in our effort to craft an educational system where students can succeed."

Williams is allocating $26 million from his educational investment fund, which is set aside to encourage achievement among public schools students, said Michelle Walker, the mayor's adviser on education.

The school system, she said, will receive $21 million and the rest will go to charter schools.

Thomas Brady, the school system's chief of business operations, said the new funds will be used for several "unmet needs" that Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has identified to Williams and the D.C. Council in his budget proposal. They include establishing parent resource centers, providing library and media centers at all schools, upgrading science labs and raising high school graduation standards.

"We applaud the mayor for recognizing that charter schools are an integral part of public education in the District of Columbia," said Josephine Baker, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees 26 charter schools. She said the board has not decided how it will spend the money.

The mayor's new allocation comes at a time when schools across the city are determining whether to cut their staffing levels based on the amount of funds they'll receive from the school system for the next school year.

Last year, schools cut more than 500 teachers, custodians, guidance counselors and other employees. Some of the schools that experienced heavy cuts last year said they expected more this year.

At Murch Elementary School in Northwest, parent Ellen G. Witman said the staff is grappling with eliminating more positions after laying off a librarian and an assistant principal last year.

Because the new money will finance Janey's programs, Witman said, it will not address Murch's staffing needs.

Some school board members have been grumbling publicly about Williams's decision to not fully fund a $3.5 billion capital development program to rebuild dozens of schools. The loss of anticipated funds has forced the school board to consider scaling down the capital plan from modernization to basic repairs, such as new roofing, windows, restrooms and heating systems.

A meeting to vote on the capital plan, scheduled for tonight, has been postponed until next Wednesday.

Some school board members have been considering, in light of the city's projected surplus, whether to ask Williams for more money for the capital program. Others have opposed seeking the money from the city until the school system demonstrates fiscal responsibility.

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