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utility costs present a puzzle
(Published October 8, 2001)
By DIANA WINTHROP
Since the announcement last month, amid much hand wringing, that the D.C. public school system had an $80 million deficit, that deficit has either ballooned or virtually disappeared, according to school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.
As the finger pointing continues, if you spilt the difference between charges of overspending and a failure to recoup federal payments, DCPS is still short a pretty penny. Now add to the growing battle over the deficit a recent report from the General Accounting Office that indicates the school system may have been taken to the cleaners by Washington Gas for double billing of nearly half a million dollars and possibly falsely billed for another estimated $1.2 million.
The system, already battle sore from months of complaints about spending procedures, has made some attempts to get a handle on how it spends money. But a real problem, according to most of the people we interviewed at DCPS and the number of school board members we contacted, is that itís impossible to get a handle on how much is spent on all utilities because the school system never sees a bill.
Officials have always received estimates, and the bills are never broken down by school or neighborhood. "We canít reward or discipline a principal for his or her energy use when we have no idea what it is," commented one school board member.
Since the Washington Gas debacle, the school system has been searching for ways to recoup money that DCPS may have been overcharged or double billed. Staffers are working long hours, attempting to unravel utility spending. The Office of Property Management, which holds closely to its vest the billing for all utilities, is now reportedly attempting to review not only electric bills going back almost a decade, but officials there also are reviewing building leases to see if the school system has been paid and if the organizations leasing those buildings are paying for their own electricity.
While Washington Gas has challenged the accusation of $1.2 million in improper billings, Potomac Electric Power Co. officials did not respond to our inquiries regarding similar allegations of double billing and overcharges to the school system.
DCPS officials say they are hopeful they will recover some utility expenses, but that money is not expected to be enough to completely erase the $80 million deficit. School officials are expected to return to the city council early next year for additional funds to allow the school system to operate until the end of the current school year.
Good grief! Itís not even Christmas and there was already a sighting of a 2002 campaign bumper sticker in Northeast the other day. The bold red-and- white bumper sticker said, "Draft Kap?" It sounded as if it related to a football draft. But the "Kap" fella is Ward 6 lawyer and activist Keith Andrew Perry. Last summer his wife, Belinda Kittles Perry, won a hotly contested seat as secretary of the Ward 6 Democrats. Some of Keith Perryís "draft" supporters say Perry is forming an exploratory committee to look into challenging Ward 6 Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose. This is just the first quasi-formal shot across the bow. Itís apparently no surprise to the Ambrose camp, which has expected Perry all along to challenge Ambrose next year.
Ah, the power of the written word! It was just a few weeks ago we reported that the chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, Norm Neverson, was taking some heat from the Democratic National Committee for the lack of "diversity" among the leadership at the local party level. Neverson made a surprising rousing endorsement speech for community activist V. Hector Rodriguez ĖĖ the only Hispanic finally elected to a party ex-officio position on the state committee.
Now an emboldened Neverson reportedly has been frantically meeting with Democrats in the Asian community, hoping to appoint someone of such ethnicity to temporarily fill the position of alternate national committeeman. That position recently was vacated by hardworking party activist Phillip Pannell, who decided to run a third time for president of the Ward 8 Democrats. Pannell, who handily won, now is positioned to help get out the votes next year for his former employer, Mayor Anthony Williams.
Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator