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Schools to get $10 million

CFO names new deputy to work with DCPS officials

(Published December 17, 2001)


Staff Writer

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. City Council have pledged to provide D.C. Public Schools with an additional $10 million, to be taken partially from other program areas in the city’s fiscal 2002 budget, to prevent the schools from closing early at the end of the current academic year.

The pledge was made Dec. 12 to allow the D.C. Board of Education to reverse its decision at the end of November to cut $9.8 out of its planned spending for the year in order to close an expected budget shortfall.

In addition to other cuts, the board voted Nov. 29 to close schools seven days early as a way to prevent laying off many newly hired teachers who are part of the board’s and Superintendent Paul Vance’s efforts to "transform" poorly performing schools.

"Together we found the resources," declared Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, who chairs the council’s education committee.

Chavous, speaking at the mayor’s weekly press briefing during which the announcement of additional school funding was made, also said that his committee will from this point on stay on top of what is being spent in the schools. He said that would be done mainly by ensuring that Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi receives and evaluates monthly spending reports from the school system’s newly appointed deputy CFO.

Mayor Williams characterized the additional $10 million as "follow[ing] through with my commitment to focus public resources on our schools and to support DCPS in every way." But the mayor also cautioned that his efforts "must be matched with an equal effort on the part of the school system to tie resources to results."

A week earlier, on Dec. 6, Gandhi announced the appointment of a new deputy chief financial officer to be in charge of working with D.C. Public Schools officials. Matthew Aloth, who was hired in August to work with the schools as deputy to new DCPS CFO Bert Molina, replaces Molina. Aloth came to the District with more than 23 years experience working for Baltimore City Schools, most recently as director of finance and accounting for the 90,000-student school system.

Gandhi promoted Molina on Dec. 6 to be the city’s deputy chief financial officer for budget and planning after school officials complained they could not get requested financial reports from the CFO’s office. Chavous called for Molina’s immediate replacement after school officials said they lacked what the councilman termed "a meaningful working relationship" with Molina. Gandhi then pledged to brief the school board personally, if necessary, but said he was reluctant to remove Molina from his post while the city’s annual audit was in progress. The audit must be completed by Feb. 1.

In early September, Gandhi announced that a previously undisclosed $80 million deficit had been discovered in the schools’ budget. Since the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, officials have said that preliminary auditing has determined the deficit may be as large as $98 million. In addition to the city’s annual comprehensive audit, done by an independent accounting firm, the council and the school board have asked D.C. Auditor Deborah Nichols to investigate why such a large deficit was not brought to the attention of appropriate officials sooner.

The additional $10 million pledged to the schools for the current fiscal year is an early effort to prevent what Gandhi said he believed could be a $100 million deficit in the current school year’s budget if officials had failed to take action.

Speaking at the mayor’s Dec. 13 press briefing, Gandhi said that the $10 million will come from the city’s reserve budget account and other programmatic areas which are unrelated to schools. Officials have not provided a breakdown of which programs or departments areas will give up money to the schools.

In his testimony before the House Government Reform Committee’s D.C. subcommittee on Dec. 7, Gandhi emphasized that the portion of the total budget for the District that is used for public education has been growing 10 percent per year and that "the District cannot continue this trend."

At the mayor’s press briefing, however, Gandhi said that although the budgets for fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004 will be difficult to manage, he is "confident that [they] will not generate deficits."

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator