Gray and Rhee Still Contesting the Count
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee continue their standoff over public school enrollment and funding, with the latest wrinkles involving stimulus money.
Gray is telling constituents that if Rhee is so concerned about the $27.3 million the D.C. Council pulled from the 2010 DCPS budget, she can close the gap by diverting some of the torrent of federal stimulus dollars and other funds available to DCPS. But Rhee says the money is already spoken for.
To recap, Gray and Rhee are locked in a disagreement over how many public school students the District will be serving this fall. Rhee is projecting a slight increase to 45,054 after years of persistent decline. The Council doesn't buy it, especially with increasingly popular charter schools forecasting another big jump, and suspects that Rhee is padding the numbers to get more money for the school system. Gray and his staff, using the last three years worth of data, estimate the student population at 41,541. (Rhee's office says that's also wrong -- that by the Council's methodology it's actually 42,000, still a big gap)
On May 12, the Council placed $27. 3 million of the system's $760 million budget in escrow, pending a count of enrollment in October. Gray said if Rhee is right, she can have the money back. Rhee said she needs to hire and prepare now for the beginning of the academic year.
Rhee has been pushing the Council to roll back the decision when it meets to vote on final passage of the budget next week.
In a Memorial Day e-mail to a concerned constituent, Gray cited the District's May 12 announcement of a $42.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for "academic improvements," followed 10 days later by word that D.C was in line for $76.3 million in stimulus dollars (from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).
"The point is that these funds are available to fill any existing gap for a few weeks until the enrollment matter is settled," Gray wrote, "not to supplant but merely to ensure continuity until the enrollment data are available. Thus, there is no reason not to proceed as planned."
Rhee referred requests for comment to spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway, who said this evening that DCPS' portion of the $76.3 million in stimulus dough has already been rolled into the per-pupil funding formula for 2010. "This money is not an independent piece of the overall budget that can be reallocated at will," she said. Same for the $42.2 million from Education, which she said is already earmarked for specific reform projects.
If the Council doesn't reverse its decision, Rhee says she stands ready to make up the $27 million shortfall by cutting teacher jobs. The situation has drawn concern from the Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In a joint statement issued this evening, they commended Gray for challenging Rhee's numbers. "Accountability need to extend in all directions," they said.
But Parker and Weingarten called for an end to the impasse and "clear and immediate guidance" on how many teaching jobs will be available.
May 27, 2009; 9:20 PM ET
Categories: Bill Turque , Education
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