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.
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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)

Under Fenty, D.C. public schools operate like other city departments, which send spending plans to his office in late February. Critics say that the mayoral budget cycle limits public participation and that when the schools budget emerges as part of the mayor's proposed city budget in early spring, it is truncated and lacking in detail compared with financial documents from the surrounding suburbs.

In early 2008, school activists took Rhee and Fenty to court for failing to release details of the fiscal 2009 budget. A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled that the city was not obligated to release the budget before submitting it to the council.

Fenty and Rhee have tried to increase the volume of available information, posting proposed and final budgets for individual schools online. But those who try to follow school spending closely say that reorganizations and changes in program codes still make it difficult to get the answers to basic questions.

"In all my years of studying DCPS budgets, it has never been more difficult to determine where the money goes," said Mary Levy, former director of the Public Education Reform Project for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Rhee promises a more robust effort to consult with school communities. This year, school principals, staff members and parents have 20 days from the date they receive budget allocations (Jan. 14) to formulate spending plans for their schools.

Principals, who carry much of the responsibility for forming school budgets, will also be held more accountable for including parents and staff members in the process. Smith said that principals' budgets will not be accepted by Rhee's office unless they receive a sign off from the Local School Restructuring Team, a panel of staff and parents that is supposed to review spending decisions but can often be left out of the loop.

"We did a lot last year to make the budget process more inclusive than the year before," Rhee said. "We got a lot of good feedback on that, and we're continuing to improve on that this year."

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