Fenty Warns Against Plan To Transfer School Funds

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said art and after-school programs planned for this fall could be cut if council members transfer $18 million out of the public schools budget and into the school modernization spending plan, as proposed by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray yesterday.

The warning came hours after the council started marking up Fenty's $5.7 billion spending proposal for 2009. A vote on the budget is set for May 13.

Gray (D) said he recommended moving the $18 million because the mayor's proposal would require the new Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization to use more than $34 million legally bound for modernization for the separate task of maintenance.

Gray's staff members estimated that the mayor's plan to dip into modernization funds -- a pool of money that Fenty (D) proposed when he was a council member and mayoral candidate in 2006 -- could lead to a $204 million deficit over six years and "is tantamount to 11 schools that would no longer be funded for modernization," a council report noted.

"We've made promises to parents. We've made promises to kids to create these first-class facilities," Gray said in an interview.

Fenty said in a statement that the cuts "will have a direct impact on our ability to bring art, literacy and after-school programs to every youth" attending D.C. public schools, he said. "My administration will be meeting with the Chairman and other Councilmembers to further discuss funding these programs that are critical to providing an excellent education to all of our students."

Council members did not learn that programs were at risk until after they had voted to accept Gray's recommendations. It was emblematic, some said, of the flaws in the process: too little information from the administration.

When the first markup ended, council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said she was wary of supporting Gray's proposal because she did not know which programs would have to go.

"I'll be the first to say that families aren't going to send their kids to buildings where the ceilings are falling," she said. "But I'm not going to support anything that . . . takes away from the classroom. We have to do both simultaneously."

The chairman's plan to move the $18 million appeared to be another sign of the power struggle between the legislative and executive branches. Fenty has made major decisions without the council's approval, sometimes when it was required by law.

The mayor and his administration immediately went on the offense.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said after a meeting with parents in Anacostia that the cuts would cost the school system but that she was sure the transfer would not stand. "I feel very confident that once we explain to the council," she said, the funds will be restored.

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