D.C. school board President Nate Bush (Ward 7) vowed yesterday to continue investigating the school system's enrollment controversy, saying he doubts the officials cited for apparently withholding accurate numbers acted on their own.
In his first public comment on the issue, Bush said he was "outraged" by a school system audit that concludes top officials chose not to give the D.C. Council correct enrollment documents during budget deliberations earlier this spring.
Bush said he and School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins gave specific orders to Arthur G. Hawkins, a deputy superintendent whom Jenkins demoted yesterday, to provide the council with accurate figures. It is not likely, Bush said, that Hawkins decided alone to ignore that decision.
"There are still unanswered questions," Bush said. "Why would an employee independently withhold information his bosses told him to give out? We are going to find out where Mr. Hawkins got the impression it should be held."
Bush's comments appeared aimed in part at school board member R. David Hall (Ward 2), the board's finance committee chairman. Bush said Hall attended a meeting he held with Jenkins and Hawkins a few days before the council's hearing on the school budget in February.
Bush said that during the meeting he and Jenkins told Hawkins to release the correct figures, which showed a drop of about 6,500 students to 81,301. When asked what role Hall had in the discussion, or if he intends to question Hall about why documents were withheld, Bush said, "I don't want to make any comment on that at this time."
Hall, a former school board president, has said he did not tell Hawkins to conceal the accurate figures. Hall also has defended Hawkins, who was hired last year by Jenkins as one of three deputies. "This doesn't surprise me," Hall said, referring to Bush's remarks. "When things happen, people point fingers. I'm not worried about any investigation. I encourage it, because the facts will lead straight to the superintendent's office, where Hawkins reports."
In addition to Hawkins, Jenkins reassigned David Huie, the schools' research director. Huie's office, the audit contends, detected enrollment declines last year but did not report them to Jenkins.
The enrollment discrepancies led the D.C. Council to drop most of a proposed $100 million budget increase for schools. Enrollment, a factor in determining school spending, also has become a key issue as that budget is reviewed by Congress.
Yesterday, the House subcommittee on the District began debating the schools' request, which is $524 million. Still at stake is $46 million requested by the schools for building repairs and higher teacher pay.
Jenkins told Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee, that the system is confident it now has an accurate count of students, and has taken steps to ensure "such errors do not occur again."
In an interview, Bush applauded the demotions. "This has been very embarrassing, and we have to deal with it sternly," Bush said.