Correction to This Article
A Jan. 2 Metro article on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's priorities as she prepared for the fiscal 2011 budget said that she vowed to protect spending on teachers and classroom supplies while cutting $22 million. The article was based on a PowerPoint presentation and comments by Rhee and her aides stating that they would seek to prevent cuts from directly affecting classroom instruction. The characterization of that intention as a vow, however, was incorrect.

Rhee vows to shield D.C. teachers, supplies amid budget cuts

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee speaks at a summit on education reform.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee speaks at a summit on education reform. (Photo By Benjamin J. Myers)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 2, 2010

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has vowed to protect funding for teachers and classroom supplies as she prepares to cut the system's overall budget by $22 million because of shrinking tax revenue and the end of one-time federal stimulus spending.

The fiscal 2011 budget, which begins in October, is projected to shrink from $779 million to $757 million. Spending would fall most sharply in the "school support category," including security, food service and after-school programs. Rhee's central office would also face cuts.

But Rhee said this week that financial constraints won't limit her efforts to transform historically poor academic performance in the 45,000-student system.

"Obviously financial times like this make things tough, but no, they won't stop us from being successful," Rhee said in an e-mail Thursday.

Rhee's budget plan is slated to become part of a citywide budget proposal that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) will announce in the spring. It will need approval from the D.C. Council, which has the power to make changes to the plan before a final vote.

Rhee's budget estimates come after she laid off 266 teachers and support staff members in the fall to make up for midsummer budget cuts by the D.C. Council. The District's reduced revenue places it in the same situation as the region's other major school systems. Montgomery, Prince George's, Fairfax and other counties are facing possible cuts in staff and programs along with rising class sizes.

A PowerPoint presentation that D.C. schools officials gave to principals and parent leaders Dec. 16 showed "school support" dropping more than 13 percent, from $126.8 million to $109.9 million. Direct funding to schools, for teachers and basic classroom supplies, remained at the current level of $614.3 million under the plan. Detailed information from the meeting can be found on the D.C. schools Web site, D.C. schools received $74.3 million in one-time federal stimulus money last year. About half of it went directly into school budgets for the current fiscal year to preserve teaching jobs. The other half went to special education and initiatives to improve teacher professional development and math, reading and early childhood programs.

Officials said they plan to squeeze what they can out of support funds and the central bureaucracy to soften the impact of the lost dollars. That continues a three-year trend under Rhee of pushing more money directly to the school level. Funding for the central office operation, which has had at least two rounds of layoffs, has dropped from $45 million in 2007 to a proposed 32.7 million in 2011, a cut of 27 percent.

"Preserving local schools budgets was our priority," said Evan Smith, director of school operations.

The current plan is built on budget projections that could change. Should the District's shortfall in estimated tax revenue grow -- it stands at $600 million over the next four years -- it could mean deeper cuts in the 2011 budget.

Despite the emphasis on direct funding, the school budget process under Rhee has drawn sharp criticism from parents and community leaders for lacking transparency and inclusiveness.

The tension stems from the school system's shift to mayoral control in 2007. When it was an independent agency, superintendents usually submitted detailed proposed operating budgets to the old school board in December or January, allowing time for public discussion and debate before submission to the mayor and the council.

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