THE D.C. public school system suffers from a peculiar level of administrative overstaffing and inefficiency, even after one accounts for state education functions that are assumed by District officials. For that reason, it is difficult to argue with the choices made by the D.C. Board of Education on Friday in slashing $19 million from the school system's current budget. In fact, the board deserves praise for finally taking constructive action.
First, the board directed acting superintendent William H. Brown to cut 75 jobs in central administration by March 30. Board member Karen Shook said she would ask that an additional 75 be abolished soon after. That task had been handed to former superintendent Andrew Jenkins, who instead played a shell game, shifting administrators to school buildings at no savings whatever. The board also voted on Friday to reduce its own share of the budget by 7.5 percent, or $100,000. Additional savings will come from a minimally disruptive four-day furlough for all school system employees.
Board members also voted unanimously to rescind a ridiculous provision in which federal contract employees are automatically placed on the D.C. schools' payroll once their federal contracts expire. The rampant and often wasteful spending of funds on the hiring of consultants and on out-of-town jaunts by middle to upper level managers will also be curtailed. Any new consultant contracts and travel requests must now have written justification and approval by the superintendent. Junkets for board members will have to be approved by the school board president. A hiring freeze for all but the most crucial vacancies has also has been put in effect for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The board has taken a good first step but has not yet gone far enough. Another $7 million in cuts must be found to balance the current schools budget, and Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon has asked for another $10 million in reductions to help erase the city's overall deficit for this year. The challenge now for the board and the acting superintendent is to make further cuts in a bureaucracy that remains too big and to target the cuts wisely.