THE MONEY-SAVING reductions for next year proposed by acting superintendent James Guines will bring the D.C. school system to its knees -- because it will all but kill the school system for parents and students who have any other alternative for education. The budget cuts intended to save $25 million to $30 million will mean that the system's young teachers will be lost as part of the reduction in personnel, that there will be a shortage of supplies in the schools and that almost all extra-curricular activities will end. On top of that comes the possibility of three to five days of furlough for the entire school system's staff. Those furlough days, saving about $1 million a day, could end school early this June or delay the start of school in September. The school board will meet today to decide how to handle that problem.
Why are the District's public schools facing such severe budget problems? In part, the answer is that the schools are dealing with their share of the entire city government's financial crisis. Those problems include a $60 million deficit this year and an accumulated deficit of about $400 million. This year the major and the city council have taken actions that effectively reduced the school budget by $10 million. The school board has taken steps to absorb all but $6.4 million of that. With the prospect of some extra money in budget supplements from Congress soon and by stopping all hiring for the rest of the year, the school system would reduce the shortfall to $4 million. But how will it make up the rest? It is at this point that furloughs of teachers and other school personnel enter the picture. Four days of furlough would mean a savings of $4 million, but it is anticipated that the cost of severance pay for teachers -- possibly as many as 800 -- who will have to be let go before September will cost another $1 million. Consequently, the school board is considering as many as five days of furlough.
Assuming that the school system's immediate budget problems are resolved, it is still not clear why the school budget has proven to be insufficient for the last several years. The explanation given at budget hearings by some city council members and Mayor Barry is that there is waste in the school budget. Studies have indicated, for instance, that the D.C. system has too many administrators in its six regional offices and its central headquarters. It has also been plain for many years that several schools do not have large enough enrollments to justify their being kept open. But neighborhood opposition to closing a school usually deters the school board from closing it.
On the other side of this argument is a group called Parents United for Full School Funding. It says the proposed school budget would be too small and -- as Peter B. Edelman, a member of the group, notes on the opposite page today -- supports its argument with comparisons of expenditures in Montgomery County. Parents United lost its fight for a larger school budget before the city council and the mayor; its members are now on Capitol Hill, asking Congress to replace some of the money the council and the major cut. Even as they are on the Hill defending the schools, the superintendent's budget-cutting proposals make it apparent that some of their doomsday predictions about what will happen to the schools without full funding are coming true.
The facts do not lead to any simple conclusion about why the D.C. schools face repeated budget problems. Is the system wasteful or is it underfunded? All that is clear is that the school board must make every attempt to save money. That means closing additional schools and further reducing the number of administrators.