The D.C. school board voted last week to cut $138,000 from its own budget -- a move some board members said was too drastic and others found not drastic enough.
The board made its economies without laying off any staff members, although one research assistant recently quit and a legal assistant was fired, and the board has not filled those positions. Most of the savings involve reducing the members' allowances for postage, telegrams, office equipment, telehpone calls, travel and overtime pay for their personal staffs.
One item board members didn't touch was their own salaries. The board president makes $21,236 and the members make $18,725 a year -- more than any other school board members in the area are paid.
Although the board members have had to make difficult budget decisions this year, such as how many teachers to lay off, shaving their own budget turned out to be one of their most difficult tasks. For weeks they tried to decide what to do.
Finally, last week, they decided to trim $138,000 from what was a budget of more than $1 million.
President R. Calvin Lockridge said the board could have saved an additional $63,000 by eliminating a fund set aside to pay research assistants for each of the other 10 members of the board.
Lockridge said each board member has a secretary who should also be able to perform the duties of research assistant.
He also criticized his colleagues on the board for keeping on the books a $27,000 position he says they want to hold open for a legal assistant who has been fired. The legal assistant, Eugene Page, is suing Lockridge and the board, alleging he was fired unfairly.
Board member Frank Smith said he plans to ask the rest of the board to cut out the position of assistant secretary to the board, to save an additional $20,000.
"I think the budget is still too fat, and when we take another look at all the functions, I think we'll cut some more," Smith said. "But there's no question we did cut out a lot of fat this time. I don't want to pooh-pooh what was done."
Board member Linda Cropp also defended the board's action. "We didn't cut an awful lot of staff, but we did cut a lot of the privileges board members had for mailings and travel. There's no doubt, though, the board will have to look to future cuts."
John E. Warren, chairman of the board's budget committee, said the reduced funds for photocopying and mailing will make it harder for him to serve his constituents in Southeast's Ward 6, a low-income area where just about all the children attend D.C. public schools.
"It's going to be a great hardship. I have to do a lot of communicating with the folks in my ward," Warren said. "With the cuts the board has made this year (in school programs), there will be more inquiries, more need for explanation. This just restricts my ability to respond," Warren said.