A D.C. City Council committee voted yesterday to grant the city school system $289.3 million to operate next year--all the money the schools had requested and much more than either Mayor Marion Barry or Council Chairman Arrington Dixon had recommended.
The action marked the first time in at least five years that a committee of the council had recommended full funding for the city's troubled and shrinking public school system.
It also created a dilemma for Barry, who has been reluctant to allocate too much money from the cash-strapped city to a system not under his direct control and is being portrayed as a foe of public education as he runs for reelection.
Dwight S. Cropp, the mayor's executive secretary, indicated yesterday that Barry may fight the full funding approved by the committee, which is $25 million more than Barry proposed, but that the mayor will be open to compromise.
"The way he was being portrayed in the community was that he didn't want to give the schools the money," Cropp said. "He doesn't disagree that the schools need money," Cropp explained. "If he had the money he would fund the schools at $300 million. If he had it."
Dixon, who had proposed granting the schools about $280 million--$16 million more than Barry but $9 million less than the schools had asked--called yesterday's committee vote a victory and said he would support full funding.
Cropp said he expects Barry to meet next week with Dixon and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At-Large), chairman of the Education Committee that voted yesterday, to try to work out a compromise.
School board president David H. Eaton said he was happy with the committee vote, but he said he would reserve most of his comments until after final council action.
Yesterday's vote was the first major action taken by a council committee on the mayor's proposed $1.8 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
In addition to Mason, committee members who voted for the full budget were John Ray (D-At Large) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6). Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who like Mason and Barry is a former school board member, left before the vote but said she was in favor of the higher amount. H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) was out of town yesterday.
Mason recommended financing the increased school spending by using $16.5 million earmarked to help retire the city's long-term debt and obtaining the remaining $9.5 million through cuts in the budgets of other city agencies. Barry is opposed to such agency cuts, according to Cropp.
However, Ray, Kane and Winter each said they had not decided on what funds should be used to provide extra money for the schools.
Barry had already recommended in his budget that $10 million earmarked for debt service be given to the schools.
The education committee also voted yesterday to approve $58.3 million in operating funds next year for the University of the District of Columbia.