The D.C. school board's finance committee, vowing to fight Mayor Marion Barry's plan to trim the board's funding request for fiscal 1984, said 540 teachers might have to be laid off to meet the mayor's proposed budget level.
The six board members attending yesterday's meeting were sharply critical of Barry. Some used words like "asinine," "criminal," and "ridiculous" to describe the mayor's decision to propose $318.5 million for schools for the fiscal year beginning in October. That amount represents a small increase over the current year's funding, but is $18 million less than the board wanted.
The board's finance committee unanimously recommended that the full 11-member board resubmit its $336.4 million request and take the funding fight to the D.C. City Council and the community.
Arthur G. Hawkins, associate superintendent for financial management for the D.C. schools, told the board members that to save $4 million, the system would have to increase class sizes by one student per class and lay off 135 teachers.
To save $16 million, Hawkins said, might mean increasing class size by four and the possible loss of 540 teachers. The schools this year hired 275 teachers to reduce class size.
Hawkins told the committee that his staff, in analyzing ways to reduce the budget in light of the mayor's action, did not consider any program cuts.
School system officials contend that the system needs the money they requested in order to provide stability at a time when test scores have improved, truancy is down, and private firms have invested time and money in various programs.
"This is a nonexpansion budget that contains no new programs," said D.C. Schools Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie. "The school system has had great instability in the past, but at a time when our youngsters have responded with increased achievement, the city sets a low budget mark."
School board President David Eaton also contended that the reduction of the board's request is even sharper than it appears because they still have not received from the city $7.2 million needed to fund pay raises owed to school system employes this year.
"We made an honest request," said board member Wanda Washburn (Ward 3). "This was bare bones. I thought that if you played honest with people you get honest treatment, but we aren't getting that. This is pitiful, like 'Alice in Wonderland' when less is supposed to be more."
"The mayor gives bonuses to his aides while children suffer," said board member Barbara Lett Simmons (At Large).
Board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), accused Barry of moving to gain control of school system finances now that Barry has been reelected and the school board has lost one of its foremost advocates on the City Council, former council president Arrington Dixon.
"The mayor wants to balance the city's budget on the backs of school children," Lockridge said. "With Dixon gone we have lost a major advocate who would go all the way for the schools and I don't think that [new City Council President David A.] Clarke will place himself in that position."
Clarke said yesterday the level of increase the board should receive is a "legitimate issue," but added: "I believe it is grossly inaccurate to characterize this as a cut. The mayor has proposed an increase that is less than what the school board wants."