The District school board last night approved a plan to slash millions in spending by eliminating hundreds of jobs, freezing routine salary increases and halting spending on non-personnel items.
School board members warned that more cuts would have to be made to avoid a deficit and that they were considering closing school four days early and scaling back on summer school.
The cuts, made during a hastily called emergency meeting, are the result of a recently completed analysis by the school system that indicates it would run a deficit of nearly $65 million on its $922 million budget unless it reduces spending before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
About half of the projected budget deficit is the result of overspending on personnel. Last week, school officials said their analysis showed about 640 more employees on the payroll than the system's budget allows, the result of a chronic failure to control personnel spending.
School board members expressed frustration yesterday that they were forced to repeat last year's last-minute effort to cut the budget to avoid a deficit. They said that they want a permanent solution to the 67,500-student system's financial problems and that Superintendent Paul L. Vance needs to hold managers accountable for overhiring.
"This has to stop, and this has to stop now," said Laura D. Gardner, a mayoral appointee to the board. "We cannot incur these kinds of deficits any longer."
The school board called for reducing spending on personnel based in the schools by $2.1 million this fiscal year. It agreed to reduce personnel spending on non-school employees by $1.9 million.
School officials said rough estimates indicated that 477 positions would need to be cut from individual schools before September and that 276 more jobs outside individual schools would need to be eliminated.
Vance said that those reductions would take place after the school year ends and that widespread layoffs might not be needed if there is sufficient attrition. Officials had not yet identified which positions would be eliminated, he added. "The number of persons displaced may be minimal," Vance said after the meeting. "I don't know what the impact is going to be."
A number of schools are overspending their budgets because finance officials gave them faulty salary information to create their budgets. For instance, administrators said schools were told to assume an average teacher salary that turned out to be too low.
In departments under the control of the school system's central administration, officials said they were examining why more employees were hired in certain departments than the budget allows.
School board documents said that freezing non-personnel spending would save $33.8 million and that freezing vacancies would save $3.6 million. They said that the non-personnel spending is likely to have the greatest impact on the central administration's ability to purchase supplies and that most local schools already had purchased items needed to last the rest of the year.
The board also put off the planned systemwide purchase of textbooks in several subjects, saying it would save $6.5 million.
The board called for eliminating routine salary increases for 12 months, which would save an estimated $3.1 million. School officials said that would not affect a 5 percent raise that is due under a teachers union contract beginning this school year. However, board members said they might have to reconsider the 9 percent increase that the union contract mandates for next year.
"We have no intention of ending this year with a deficit," School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said at the meeting. And, she warned, "the action we take today is just a first step."
School officials said the board would need to find an additional $12.2 million in cuts to avoid a deficit. At a closed-door meeting Monday, board members discussed the possibility of calling off four days of class this school year, meaning the last day for students would be June 16. However, board members did not vote on that proposal or others to achieve additional savings. They said they would determine how to proceed in the coming weeks.
Also yesterday, school officials announced the resignation of the school system's chief financial officer, Robert A. Morales, who they said was stepping down for health reasons. They said Morales was the sixth person to serve in the post since July 2001.
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.