The District Board of Education has decided to eliminate the jobs of 557 school-based employees, including 285 teachers, in order to balance its budget.
The board's 4 to 3 vote, taken at a specially called meeting Tuesday, drew an angry reaction from school activists and teachers union officials, who said the panel should have found other ways to save money. But board members who supported the plan said they had little choice.
"We have to do that to bring our budget into alignment," said Carrie L. Thornhill, a mayoral appointee on the board. "People are under the impression that we want to do this and that we gain some pleasure from it. We don't."
Officials said that all of the jobs being eliminated are currently filled and that the reductions will take place after classes end in June. In addition to the school-based staff reductions, the board agreed to eliminate 27 positions in the central administration.
The board's action will save $30.9 million a year and help the school system remain within its overall budget of $982.6 million this fiscal year and balance next year's budget, officials said.
The reductions had long been anticipated. Initially, the board said it would have to eliminate hundreds of jobs midway through the school year. But city officials provided funding to delay the layoffs until the end of the school year.
The budget crisis was touched off by pay raises due to teachers and other employees under their union contracts. The school board canceled the raises last year, saying the city had not provided enough money to fund them. Then the board reinstated the raises under pressure from employees and city officials, saying it would find other spending cuts.
The impact of the personnel reductions will vary by school. At Cardozo Senior High School in Northwest, for instance, Principal Reginald C. Ballard Jr. said that he would lose seven of his 30 general education teachers. He said an additional 20 staff members who teach special education and English as a second language would not be affected. Ballard said general education classes, which now average 20 to 25 students, will likely have 27 to 28 students as a result.
"It means the kids get less individual assistance," Ballard said.
Ballard said the cut has been one of several at his school in recent years. Before the school year began, he said, he had to cut five teachers and four people on the support staff because of an earlier school system budget crisis. He said the cuts have come despite increasing enrollment at Cardozo.
Enrollment systemwide has declined in recent years, as has the number of employees. There are currently about 64,200 students. As of March 19, the school system employed the equivalent of 12,924 full-time workers -- including 5,655 teachers -- plus several hundred temporary employees, said Tony J. Demasi, an official in the human resources department. At the same time in 2002, he said, the system had the equivalent of13,227 full-time employees, 6,166 of whom were teachers, and there were also several hundred temporary employees.
At Tuesday's board meeting, school administrators warned that the latest round of cuts could result in some grades being partially combined. As a hypothetical example, they said that a small school losing a second-grade teacher might be forced to put some second-graders in a first-grade class and others in a third-grade class. School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz told administrators that such combinations were unacceptable.
School activists said the board should have found alternatives to the staff reductions. They chided board members for funding new initiatives next school year instead of using that money to save some of the positions being cut. The board reduced funding for new programs but did not eliminate it.
"We just think that they're not being wise," said Iris Toyer, co-chairof Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools. "I don't think that many of the board members are in touch with what it takes to operate a school."
Terence Cooper, a spokesman for the Washington Teachers' Union, said the cuts will hurt teaching and learning. "It will result in more crowding in the classrooms," he said. "It will result in less effective administration."
Voting for the reductions were Cafritz, Julie Mikuta (District 1), Thornhill and mayoral appointee Robin B. Martin. Voting against were Dwight E. Singleton (District 2), Tommy Wells (District 3) and William Lockridge (District 4). Mayoral appointee Mirian Saez was absent.
Wells said the board should have first eliminated funding for new initiatives. Lockridge said that he wanted to see a school-by-school breakdown of the personnel reductions before voting and that the administration had failed to provide one. "I wasn't clear on the total impact it was going to have," he said.