IT DOESN'T SEEM to matter what would-be reformers of the D.C. public school system try to do. The bureaucracy's stranglehold on the schools is nothing short of amazing-bordering-on-criminal. Nearly seven years after the D.C. financial control board declared a "state of emergency," threw out the superintendent and elected school board, and put a new board of trustees in charge with vast powers to overhaul the system, the bureaucracy is still cruising along, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and cheating D.C. schoolchildren out of a decent education.
Lest you think we are resorting to hyperbole, here's an assessment of the situation that we received Friday from Superintendent Paul L. Vance's office:
About 646 people are on the D.C. public school system payroll without funds to cover them "because there is no system in place to assure that hiring stays within staffing plans." In fact, the school system hasn't had in place an accurate position control system, called a Schedule A, "in years," the office said. And, you may ask, how much are taxpayers shelling out for the 646 people who aren't authorized to be on the payroll? The number is $31.5 million, according to Linda Wharton-Boyd, the system's communications officer.
Wait, there's more.
The superintendent's office also reports that its budget staff caused a $17 million problem by calculating "unrealistically low labor costs -- which meant they failed to cut enough people and, in some cases, hired people they couldn't really afford."
Unless cuts are made -- and there's no way to avoid doing so -- the school system will blow its personnel budget by $31.5 million this fiscal year. That comes on top of a $33.3 million shortfall in other areas. The school board has no choice but to cut, and cut deeply. Taxpayers shouldn't have to cover the school system's misdeeds. Among the first to go should be all of the staff who had a hand in creating and perpetuating this financial disaster.
Mr. Vance has placed the blame for this mess on financial systems that have failed for years. "This is part of the system's financial conditions that have to be cleaned up," he told The Post. We beg to differ. The public schools don't have a "system" problem; they have a people problem. For example, information provided by Mr. Vance's office indicates that part of the payroll problem stems from people being hired on a school system grant and then not being terminated when the grant runs out. That is not a system problem. People -- those who did the hiring and those who were hired -- know when the grants expire. People bypassed the rules.
Likewise, if, as the superintendent's office alleged, other D.C. government agencies have placed their own employees on the school system payroll to avoid budget ceilings, that is not a system problem. Call it what it is: misfeasance.
Since the control board's drastic actions in 1996, the D.C. public school system has had three chief operating officers, several governing bodies -- including the current hybrid elected-appointed school board -- several chief financial officers and direct intervention by Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Yet the dysfunctional, incompetently administered school management system is still in place.
And, of course, the real losers in this continuing scandal are students and D.C. taxpayers.