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D.C. Council chairman presses Mayor Fenty on funding for D.C. teachers' raises

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is questioned by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, left, at a hearing on Fenty's budget proposal.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is questioned by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, left, at a hearing on Fenty's budget proposal. (Gerald Martineau for The Washington Post)

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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, rivals in September's Democratic primary, quarreled Monday over whether the mayor's proposed budget for fiscal 2011 would cover the 20 percent pay increase that Fenty has promised teachers.

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During testimony before the council, Fenty (D) could not immediately identify what Gray (D) estimated to be as much as $100 million needed for the tentative labor agreement struck last week with the Washington Teachers' Union.

"It's an enormous amount of money. I can't find it" in the budget, said Gray, noting that Fenty's plan would reduce the public schools budget by $22 million to $758 million.

Fenty and city Administrator Neil O. Albert said they would get him the answer at a later time.

"Can you do it now?" Gray asked.

Fenty's appearance marked the beginning of the council's scrutiny of his $5.3 billion local budget, which grows to $11 billion when federal dollars and capital expenditures are included. The council will continue holding budget hearings with department heads before amending the plan and voting in June.

Although several council members grilled Fenty, Albert and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi about the proposed budget's cuts to social service programs, increases in parking meter fees and other specifics, focus turned to the tentative teachers' union contract.

Fenty stayed for the first five hours, testifying for 3 1/2 . Discussion on the contract funding continued after Fenty left the witness table.

Gray repeatedly asked Gandhi whether the money was on hand. "It's a very straightforward question, Mr. Gandhi," Gray said. "I don't need a protracted answer. Yes or no."

Gandhi said he would have to study the contract and the budget. "I think it's somewhat premature for me to say that that contract doesn't make sense," he said.

Gray was backed in his questioning by several council members, including David A. Catania (I-At Large), considered a Fenty ally.

"I don't want to engage in a gotcha moment here, . . . but if the teachers have been led to believe that the money is readily available, that has not been made evident today," Catania said.

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