Gandhi says Rhee's surplus does not exist
District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has told Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee that the $34 million surplus she cited Tuesday as a basis for helping to finance teacher salaries under the proposed new labor contract "does not exist."
Gandhi's finding, conveyed to Rhee in a stinging letter late Thursday, is likely to open up a whole new chapter of contention in the tortured history of the contract, which has been in the works since the end of 2007. While his assessment appears to defuse charges that Rhee opted to sock away money for a new contract rather re-hire teachers laid off in October, it clearly undermines the financial foundation of the $140 million deal.
Gandhi told Rhee that while there is a projected $34 million of under-spending in the school operations sector of the current budget, that is offset by an estimated $30 million in over spending in the system's central office operation. In unusually blunt language, Gandhi also took Rhee to task for what he called a failure to adequately consult his office before revealing the surplus at a meeting with D.C. Council members.
"I was incredulous to learn that in your April 13, 2010 presentation to the Council on the contract you asserted that a surplus is available to fund the proposed salary increases based on preliminary information," he wrote.
In the letter, Gandhi described an e-mail exchange last month between Rhee and George Dines, his deputy for school finances, in which Dines mentions a possible source of extra funding from lower-than-expected-teacher salary expenditures. According to the e-mails, which were obtained by The Post, Rhee said more discussion was needed before being able to count on the money to pay teachers.
"We just need to carefully review together any projected surplus before we make any decisions relative to its use," Rhee wrote.
Gandhi said in his letter that "no further discussion has taken place to date."
A 7:18 pm e-mail from Rhee said she was in a meeting but would call back.
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