Individual D.C. schools face funding squeeze

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2010; B01

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's education spending plan for 2011 would increase per-student funding for citywide programs but freeze a key stream of money that goes directly to schools, sharply squeezing their programs, according to documents submitted to the D.C. Council.

When he unveiled his budget Thursday, Fenty (D) highlighted a proposed $175 per-student increase in funding for the 75,000 students in the city's regular and charter schools, to $8,945. The money would support programs such as special education, food service and early-childhood initiatives.

But for individual schools, the budget picture is more severe.

Direct funding to the District's 123 public schools under Fenty's plan would remain at the current $614.3 million in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. That means schools would face funding shortages because of annual cost increases, most of them involving salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators. The average cost of a teacher, in salary and benefits, will rise to $84,026 next year from $81,815. The average principal will cost $138,710, up from $134,019.

The fiscal flat line poses challenges for schools seeking to maintain staff and programs. For Woodrow Wilson High School in Tenleytown, for example, keeping all of its faculty and administrative staff next year would exceed its budget by more than $700,000, even though its enrollment of 1,500 students is projected to remain nearly constant. As a result of the shortage, the school is expected to lose 10 teaching and staff positions.

"The larger the school, the bigger the impact of the salary increases," said Cathy Reilly, director of Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (SHAPPE).

The D.C. Council will review and act on Fenty's budget this spring.

The District's publicly financed but independently operated charter schools would fare somewhat better under Fenty's plan, principally because their enrollment is projected to increase by 1,628 students to 29,695. Charter schools receive a $2,800 per-student facilities allotment. Public-school enrollment is expected to remain essentially flat next year at about 45,800.

Total education spending for fiscal 2011 would decline to $757.5 million, from the current $779.5 million. The dip reflects declining tax revenues and the end of federal economic stimulus funding. In 2009, city schools received about $70 million through the stimulus law. The District suffered another financial setback this week when its application for about $100 million in school reform funding was denied in the first round of the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition. D.C. officials are expected to reapply this spring for the contest's second round.

During the past three years, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has pushed more money from the central office to the schools. Direct support to schools increased nearly 7 percent, or $39 million, during that period. But that trend appears to be ending. Schools will now be obligated to pay for some programs once financed by the central office. High schools will be required, for example, to fund JROTC, which costs about $150,000 a year for two instructors.

The proposed per-student increase would flow to centrally administered programs. Spending on early-childhood initiatives -- including an additional 184 Head Start classrooms in 70 schools -- would grow from $42.4 million to $55.1 million. Special education, an area in which the District is under federal court supervision because of a class-action lawsuit brought by parents demanding better services, would receive a funding boost from $128 million to $132 million. Food-service spending would rise from $17.1 million to $28.5 million.

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