The mayor's commitment to the goals of education and to the educational system of this city, as evidenced by years of involvement in the secondary and higher education programs of the District, cannot be questioned. The mayor would not, has not and will not propose budgetary levels for our public education institutions that he believes inadequate to maintain an excellent and ever-improving level of services.
The mayor recognizes the enormous contribution made by the board and superintendent in bringing rationality to the public school budget. He is grateful that both the public and private discourse on the fiscal problems of the city's schools has been conducted in the spirit of true cooperation. The superintendent, president and members of the board and all school personnel are to be congratulated.
Yet there remains disagreement about the level of resources needed in fiscal 1984. The mayor has not proposed less funding for the D.C. public schools. He has proposed a $12 million increase. In fact, our fiscal 1984 proposed budget includes more than $536 million in appropriated operating and capital funds for public education. This represents fully 27 percent of the city's total request and is an increase of $43 million, or 8 percent, over comparable fiscal 1983 levels. In comparison, the overall District increase is only 5 percent.
This includes nearly $444 million for the board of education, teacher's retirement fund, school transit subsidy, public schools capital program and debt service on prior and current public school capital projects. It includes, as well, approximately $32 million in indirect services for secondary school education (in such agencies as the departments of human services, recreation, corrections and employment services).
It is difficult to conceive that such a commitment can be considered inadequate or insufficient, especially when viewed in the context of the economic constraints we face, the competing demands for resources from other essential city programs and services and the enormous non-discretionary increases that we must bear.
The mayor firmly believes that the performance of our public schools can be maintained at the budgetary level he has proposed. How the board might choose to allocate the increase the mayor has proposed is, of course, completely within the board's discretion. But we are convinced that services need not be reduced, that personnel need not be laid off and that the children in our elementary, junior high and high schools can continue to get the competent and progressive education our teachers, non-teaching personnel, administrators and board members have worked so very hard to achieve.
Frequent mention has been made of our position concerning the school transit subsidy. The mayor believes that children who are in financial or physical need of transportation assistance should have that transportation subsidized. It is an incentive to attend school and a necessity for many of our children. He does not believe, however, that children who can afford to be self-sufficient, children who are physically and economically able to obtain their own transportation, or children who abuse the transit program should be subsidized. Upwards of 64,000 schoolchildren will continue to be subsidized in fiscal 1984--a remarkable statistic at a time when many urban school systems are abandoning such programs because of resource constraints and in light of the fact that many other jurisdictions do not provide subsidies for this purpose at all. To imply that need-based subsidies and curtailment of abuse are a detriment to quality education is to ignore the principle that those with the ability to pay should pay.
The mayor's recommendation for the board of education and his rationale are clear. That school board members take issue with the proposal is their right. But there should not be debate on the commitment of the mayor to the excellence of the District's public education institutions. He believes in them, he encourages their efforts and he is both directly and indirectly promoting increased cooperation between our public schools and other District agencies and programs.
We believe that the proposals are extraordinary in light of the difficult choices that had to be, and will have to be, made by the mayor--and that will have to be made by the council as a whole. The writer is director of the D.C. Office of the Budget.