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Fenty budget proposal has school meals, summer jobs, welfare in cross hairs

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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 8:40 PM

The District would greatly reduce the summer jobs program for youths as part of a plan released Tuesday to close a projected $188 million budget gap in the current fiscal year, and it would also reduce welfare assistance to residents and delay the start of a program requiring public schools to serve students healthier meals.

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Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's much-anticipated proposal puts the final say on what are sure to be controversial decisions in the hands of Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D), currently the D.C. Council chairman, and the rest of the council.

The plan was expected to be delivered to the council last week, but Chief Financial Officer Natwar N. Gandhi combed through a draft and sent it back to the Fenty administration to revise. The 48-page document, certified by Gandhi, landed with the council Tuesday. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for next Tuesday.

By incorporating a recent proposal by council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) to reduce welfare assistance, the budget proposal would bring the program in line with federal regulations, for a saving in fiscal 2011 of $4.6 million. Other council members had balked at the proposal by Barry and Alexander, who said the current system is creating a cycle of poverty in the city.

In another move, Fenty (D) postponed implementation of council member Mary M.Cheh's hard-won Healthy Schools Act, which would require schools to provide healthier meals and more exercise. The delay would contribute more than half of an $8 million saving in the District's office of the state superintendent for education.

"I'm trying to be open-minded about this. If everyone is going to feel the pain, everything is going to be on the table," Cheh (D-Ward 3) said, although she added that she has to look at the budget closely.

In apparent deference to Gray, Fenty would significantly cut the summer youth employment program to six weeks and a maximum of 12,000 participants - a major turnaround from his philosophy of serving every youth who wanted a job.

That policy has caused the summer jobs program to go over budget by millions of dollars and has eaten away at the budget of the Department of Employment Services, which has struggled with the challenge of managing nearly 20,000 participants. In all, Employment Services would save $4.7 million in Fenty's new budget proposal.

Gray has said the summer jobs program should be smaller to be more effective.

The Fenty administration issued a news release that made no mention of the three major changes, while highlighting other aspects.

About 500 special education students had already been taken off the rolls of expensive private schools, a cost heavily subsidized by the District, said Sean Madigan, a spokesman for the Fenty administration. Fenty's budget team identified the amount saved as $22 million. Other savings identified by the Fenty administration include $6 million attributed to favorable interest rates on current borrowing. On the added-revenue side was $18 million in federal stimulus funds directed to D.C. public schools and public charter schools.

In October, Fenty ordered agencies to freeze hiring and to reduce spending on non-personnel items by 10 percent, although he has been criticized for breaking the freeze to hire some former campaign workers. City agencies appear to have heeded Fenty's order to save money in a variety of ways.


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