D.C. Schools Face Bigger Classes, Layoffs Due to $40 Million Gap

Rhee Says Principals, Parent Groups Will Decide What to Cut at Each Site

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009

The District's budget problems will force its public schools to trim as much as $40 million in spending by the end of October, prompting teacher layoffs and, in some cases, increasing class sizes, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced Wednesday.

Rhee said she did not expect any disruptions to major academic programs or course offerings. She also said she could not yet specify how many of the city's approximately 3,800 classroom teachers would lose their jobs.

She said the moves are the result of a shortfall created when the D.C. Council made additional cuts to the fiscal 2010 budget in August. The council had to close a projected $666 million shortfall over the next three years caused by declining tax revenue.

"The unanticipated budget shortfall will be challenging," Rhee said in a statement. "No budget reduction is taken lightly, but every school reduction will be made in the best interest of students."

The District's public school budget is approximately $760 million.

Rhee said she will not be able to give specifics until later this month, after principals work with administrators and parent groups at each of the district's 127 schools to determine how they want to absorb the budget cuts at each site.

Even with reductions in non-personnel spending, a $40 million budget cut is likely to deliver the biggest hit the city's public school teaching corps has taken since December 2003, when school officials dismissed 545 employees to balance the system's operating budget.

Rhee's announcement at a late afternoon news conference, where she was joined by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), met immediate criticism from Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker. He questioned how "unanticipated" the school system's spending issues could have been, given the broad indications of the District's financial problems over the past six months.

"The manner and timing of the mayor's announcement at best reflects extreme mismanagement and a lack of transparency," Parker said in a statement.

Parker questioned the wisdom of the District's decision to hire 900 teachers over the summer, despite obvious signs of financial distress.

Rhee said school principals were free during the system's "open hiring" period in early summer to fill vacancies, adding that she did not anticipate the August reductions by the council.

"At that time, we did not know we would see this" budget cut, Rhee said.

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