Don't tell Jerry Spence that the District of Columbia's new-found $68-million budget surplus is good news. Spence, a woodworking teacher with a master's degree and 12 years experience, has been on a professional roller coaster for the past two years because of the city7s ever-changing financial state, and says he is fed up.
In 1980, when Mayor Marion Barry and other city leaders were proclaiming a severe municipal financial crisis and calling for budget reductions across the board, Spence was riffed--laid off through a Reduction In Force. He was rehired the following year, riffed again a few months later and then rehired a second time. He is now working as a temporary teacher at Ballou High School--and making $8,000 a year less then when it all began.
For Spence, to hear the same city financial managers who warned of a $60-million potential deficit now speak of a $68-million surplus is to hear that there was no good reason for him to lose his permanent job.
"If Barry's people had done their homework," Spence said, "they could have seen that they were going to get more tax revenues. They might not have known it would be so much, but they would have had some idea. When you consider the hardship they put me through--they put a whole lot of people through--you know they don't know what they're doing."
Not so, says the mayor.
"I sympathize with anyone who's lost a job," Barry said the other day. "At the time we made that decision--I'm talking about riffing people--we were looking at an unbalanced budget. Last spring when we had the last series of RIFs, we had no idea we were going to come under budget by $7 million and end up like we did with $68 million for deficit reduction."
Besides, Barry asserted, the city at the time had a $388-million accumulated deficit that the surplus has been used to help reduce. "It may be a $68-million surplus for that year but over time it's really a deficit reduction. We don't have any extra money."
Don't tell that to Jerry Spence.
Spence's agony is one man's view of the budget surplus, but undoubtedly a very important view in this election year. In a city of government workers, the painful bumps and RIFs of the jobs reduction process have the potential to proliferate into the political arena. And one of the areas where Barry has been having more than his share of trouble has been with the organizations representing city employes.
In 1978, the union that represents Spence endorsed Barry. But the union's leader says he is not sure what will happen this time around. "It's very difficult to reconcile the great deal of talk about a budget crisis and the actual RIFs with the surplus," says William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union.
"It might be said in defense of the government that there was no way to be certain of the surplus at the time the budget was approved," Simons allowed. "But that certainly raises questions about the city's financial management. I think certain questions must be raised about the treatment of teachers, children and education in this city.
"The teachers were the hardest hit city employes. And the number of RIFs don't tell the story. We had in the neighborhood of 800 RIFs but 200 to 250 of those were reinstated as permanent teachers. Those individuals were out of work for some time. We still have teachers waiting on the retention schedule to see if they will be rehired."
Spence was one of nearly 1,000 people who once booed Mayor Barry at a city job fair at the Mayflower Hotel in September 1980. And if he had it to do all over again?
"I'd definitely boo him again. He's the head of the government that took us through all of that, and for what? I'm still trying to get myself straight. The council and the school board had a part in it but he is the mayor.
"Like when we were booing him, he stood there looking at us like we were children being rude," said Spence. "I'm no damn child. I'm trained to be a teacher. . . . I think he's going to be in a lot of political trouble behind how the RIFs came down."