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What $81 Million Could Do

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants to use part of the money to pay the severance costs for central office employees she would like to let go. She also wants to boost arts programs.
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants to use part of the money to pay the severance costs for central office employees she would like to let go. She also wants to boost arts programs. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee would spend $81 million requested from the D.C. Council on a range of academic improvements, including expanding art, music and foreign language programs; hiring more full-time librarians; and upgrading science labs, city and school officials said yesterday.

The money, the officials said, would also be used to pay severance costs for hundreds of central office employees who would be let go if the council gives Rhee authority she requested to more easily dismiss administrative workers, as well as for expected raises in a new teachers collective bargaining agreement.

Rhee requested the $81 million in October as a one-time allocation from unanticipated tax revenue. But the request was not detailed, and council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) urged Rhee to specify how the schools would use the money. City officials speaking on Rhee's behalf provided details to Gray yesterday.

The funds would be used to make the school system more efficient so that more money could be invested in improving student performance, officials said.

"If we want to start implementing programs and affecting academic achievement, this is the one-time infusion the chancellor needs so we can have a laserlike target on student achievement," said Noah Wepman, education program director for the city's Office of the City Administrator.

A large chunk of the money would go to reducing the size of the central office and paring the number of unused classrooms through school closings and consolidations.

Rhee is seeking $7 million to cover severance pay for central office employees and staff members who are cut from schools that will be closed. Rhee's request to obtain authority to fire central office staffers she considers incompetent is pending in the council.

She intends to follow through on a plan by the previous school administration to close and consolidate numerous schools. Although enrollment is down to 49,600, the system is operating an inventory of schools that can accommodate more than 70,000 students, Wepman said. Rhee, he said, wants to use surplus money rather than the budget to pay some $23 million in costs associated with operating too many facilities, allowing the system to devote more dollars to reforms. Rhee would use another $3.6 million to close the schools, which she has not yet identified.

In addition, she is seeking:

¿ $16 million for teachers' raises and $2.3 million for teacher's aides' raises;

¿ $7.5 million to expand art, music, foreign language programs and to hire more librarians; and

¿ $2.3 million to retain teachers who have been deemed unnecessary because of the enrollment decline through the remainder of the school year rather than firing them mid-year.

"This will free up [money in the operational budget] that can be used for teacher professional development, to implement accountability systems for all employees and data systems -- all the components of a successful school reform program that would otherwise have waited to '09," Wepman said.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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