DCFPI Weighs in on the DC Public Schools Reduction in Force

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute testified on the lead panel at a recent DC Council hearing on the DC Public Schools Reduction in Force (RIF).  Mary Levy and Iris Toyer also testified on that panel, starting off a hearing that would last 16 hours and include union officials, teachers, parents, and others.

DCFPI’s Ed Lazere noted in his testimony that there are many unanswered questions about the budget shortfall ‘ particularly why it wasn’t revealed and addressed earlier ‘ and he offered suggestions for avoiding such problems in the future.

The issues raised by Lazere are relevant this week, as DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee prepares for an October 29 hearing to discuss the factors behind her surprise announcement of a budget shortfall and the RIF.  DCFPI’s testimony focused on three key points:

  • The Budget Shortfall Should Have Been Identified and Addressed Earlier:  DCPS says the budget gap partly reflects the costs of teachers who were left without a classroom due to school closings ‘ in 2007 ‘ but remained on the DCPS payroll.  That should have been evident this spring as the 2009-2010 budget was being developed.   If the only way to reduce the number of excess teachers is a RIF in the middle of the school year, the city has a serious problem on its hands.
  • Council Budget Cuts Made Things Worse:  On July 31, the DC Council cut $17 million from DCPS as part of a plan to close a city-wide budget shortfall.  While this alone did not create the need for a RIF, no one should pretend that budget cuts don’t matter, especially when they come just weeks before the start of the school year.  The Council’s action added to any fiscal problems DCPS was facing and forced them to look for savings.
  • DC Needs More Budget Transparency:  The DCPS budget, like the budget of many District agencies, is opaque.  The budget line items often don’t make sense, there are bizarre unexplained swings in funding from year to year in many line items, and there is little description of what DC is buying with its large investment in DCPS.  If the furor over the RIF leads DCPS to think more about how it shares budget information with residents and the DC Council, that would be an important silver lining to this cloud.