Cut is a cut, no matter how it's sliced
Mayor Fenty's proposed FY 2011 budget is due out Thursday and DCPS, along with the rest of D.C government, will be feeling the sting of declining tax revenues, and the absence of one-time federal stimulus dollars that took the edge off of a difficult FY 2010.
Schools officials estimated in December that the total 2011 DCPS budget would be down 2.8 percent, from $779 million to $757 million. But that was before a February revenue forecast that sliced another $50 million from the funds projected to be available to the District in fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1.
At the December budget presentation for principals and parent leaders, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said she wanted hold direct funding to the schools steady at this year's level of $614.3 million. Officials also point out that since Rhee's arrival in 2007, direct support to schools has increased by $39.3 million, or nearly seven percent.
But even if schools hold on to last year's funding level, they will be asked to absorb a series of increases that will effectively cut their budgets. The average cost of a teacher -- in salary and benefits -- is expected to rise to $84,026 from last year's $81,815. The average salary and benefit package for a principal will grow to $138,710, up from $134,019.
For a high school with 50 teachers, this comes to a loss of $142,050. "For the larger schools, the loss is thus amplified," said a budget analysis posted by the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (SHAPPE) There are other new cost pressures on individual schools. Schools that want to continue Junior ROTC, for example, a program that had been been paid for by the central office, will have to finance it with their own discretionary funds.
"It's going to be harder to hold schools harmless than last year," said Mary Levy, former school budget expert for the Washington Lawyers Committee, who will be going to work part time for the D.C. Council beginning next week.
Parents active in the budget process had hoped for more transparency this year. Rhee promised more information, and the council passed legislation last summer requiring that detailed school budget data be posted 21 days before the mayor's submission to the council. Unfortunately, preliminary school budgets were posted on the DCPS website only last week. And it was with the caveat that many changes had already been made.
What the agency called "final preliminary budgets" will be available Thursday.
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