The D.C. school board approved $30.2 million in required budget cuts last night after a holdout board member agreed to delay the opening of a new technology high school by a year.
About two weeks ago, when the board was presented with a blueprint for achieving the city-ordered cuts, board member Tommy Wells (District 3) suggested alternate cuts that would have restored funding for McKinley Tech, the high school planned in Northeast Washington. The move stalled the vote on the budget cuts.
At the beginning of last night's meeting, Wells offered a resolution delaying McKinley's debut until 2004. "It should be opened right and not opened for expediency," he said.
Postponing McKinley's opening eliminated $1.1 million from the budget and helped the board reach its goal.
The reductions were proposed by Superintendent Paul L. Vance, who was ordered by the D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to cut spending to help resolve the District's $323 million budget deficit -- a result of tax collections that were lower than projected.
The reductions were achieved without closing schools, furloughing employees or nixing early childhood development programs -- drastic measures that some board members had warned would be necessary when the cuts were proposed.
Wells tried to amend the final reduction plan last night by proposing that the board reinstate $1 million in maintenance costs so students would not face "another year of cold classrooms." Earlier this week, Eastern High School classes were moved to the National Guard Amory building because the heating system was failing and the school was cold, he said.
But school board Vice President William Lockridge (District 4) argued that the money is ill-spent on buildings, and that learning is more important. "Some of us learned in one-room shacks," he said.
School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz (At Large) said that $1 million "could fix the windows in maybe four schools." The school system has a massive maintenance backlog.
After his amendment was killed, Wells cast the only vote against the budget reduction plan. Eight members voted in favor of it.
Approved cuts include a $5.4 million reduction in contract services, a $10.3 million savings in special education and the transfer of technology spending to the school district's capital budget, which will delay modernization and school construction.