THE D.C.government directly funds 12,386 jobs in its public schools, its university and its law school, and that accounts for one-fourth of the city's work force. If that seems too big, considering the quality of the product, you're right. Efficiency must be improved throughout, and much of what is required can be found in the Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities' recent diagnosis.
The D.C. schools employ 1,250 more non-school staff than similar school districts, even when you have factored in excess for fulfilling functions that otherwise would have been performed by the state. Each ward representative on the school board has two offices; board members are paid too much and the board's own staff is many times larger than those in other jurisdictions. These are some of the reasons the Commission recommends: 1) Cutting 800 administrative positions for an annual savings of $36 million by 1996. 2) Closing board members' ward offices and reducing their staffs by 50 percent. 3) Closing five more schools. 4) Stipends, not salaries, for board members.
The commission also provides welcome guidance for the University of the District of Columbia. UDC tuition accounts for only 7.7 percent of operating costs, far less than comparable public institutions, and is so low that students cannot qualify for federal aid. UDC raises too little private money, spends too much on rent and lacks a system to evaluate cost and effectiveness.
The commission suggests: phased in tuition increases of $250 per year through 1996, the development of a plan to set funding priorities and to eliminate costly and underutilized programs, launching a private fund-raising campaign that targets local businesses and national foundations and the use of excess D.C. government building space (such as closed public schools) to reduce UDC's rent costs.
The commission's compelling ideas on the D.C. School of Law, which is still unaccredited and has far too high per-student costs, can be summed up in three words: Shut it down. "Limited public funds should first be invested in early, primary, secondary, and baccalaureate programs. ... Only when surplus funds exist will the funding of professional, post-graduate education be reasonable," the commission said.
One theme running through these recommendations is that the city's public education system is marred by inefficiencies and weak planning that have resulted in too little funding of that which matters most -- direct instruction and student support. Washington can indeed produce prepared and well-educated D.C. graduates if the city's elected officials embrace these findings and put them into effect.