The District school board yesterday approved an operating budget that would raise local spending by 14.5 percent, setting up a confrontation with key city leaders who had already warned that such an increase was unacceptable.
In a hastily called special meeting, the board approved Superintendent Paul L. Vance's proposed spending plan without making any changes. The budget, approved on a 7 to 0 vote with two members absent, calls for spending $847.9 million in local money, an increase of $107.4 million over the current budget.
School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz (At Large) said the additional funds are needed to bring improvements to academics, athletics and maintenance. "We have a crisis in education in this city that is the result of years and years of neglect," she said.
But city officials said the school board's request for the fiscal year that begins in October is unreasonable at a time when the District is facing financial problems because of a decrease in tax revenue. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the council must approve the budget.
Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Williams, said the mayor expected the school board to reduce the amount of money that the superintendent wanted. "It's going to be next to impossible to find that kind of money in this climate," Bullock said.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who chairs the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue, said he was "chagrined" that the school board failed to reduce Vance's request.
"What is the role of the school board if now the mayor and the council will be the entities that have to reduce the budget?" Evans said. "The school board . . . has become the lobbying arm of the school system. And, frankly, we don't need a lobbying arm for the school system."
School board members said they carefully reviewed the budget and questioned school administrators during closed-door meetings and concluded that the additional funds were needed.
For the past two years, the council and mayor have approved smaller school board budget requests. Some city officials have questioned why the school system continues to request large budget increases as enrollment has declined steadily to its current level of 67,500 students.
This year, school officials said they need more money to pay for already approved salary increases for teachers and other employees, to repair crumbling schools and to improve student achievement.
To keep the school system operating at its current level would cost $803.3 million, an increase of about 8.4 percent, school officials said. Vance asked for an additional $44.6 million for "essential improvements," including funds to create more advanced academic programs, expand girls' sports and add an English-Spanish immersion program.
The proposed budget would increase the number of locally funded employee slots by 123.5 to 9,379.5. It would add foreign language teachers in 18 elementary schools and provide more funding for teacher training. The after-school program would accept 500 more students. Daily summer school would be expanded from three hours to six, but enrollment of 10,000 would be unchanged.
The budget also calls for an additional $24.3 million for building repairs. School board members said that money was needed for basic repair work, including fixing malfunctioning boilers and broken windows. The board budgeted $533,200 to improve "outreach to parents," which includes sending newsletters about the school system's accomplishments.
The board also approved a capital spending plan of about $313 million. School officials said that would allow the school system to modernize 10 schools, part of a plan to replace all the schools in the city. That effort has cost far more than school officials had originally budgeted.