When President Bill Clinton signed legislation that established federal control of the District’s budget (which was drowning in red ink), bureaucracy and legislative authorities (who had allowed the ink to flow), there was but one rule of thumb: Do not believe the numbers.
The D.C. Public Schools’ budget has a hole that’s at least $23 million deep.
It’s time for parents and other taxpayers to adopt the erstwhile financial control board’s cardinal rule, because here’s what happens when school funding doesn’t follow students into their classrooms. The central bureaucracy sucks it up, and — worse — the educrats bleed the system and create a deficit.
That’s precisely what has happened in D.C. Public Schools, even though a prolific outside bean counter named Mary Levy warned top D.C. officials in 2018 that semantics was making it nearly impossible to decipher who was working on behalf of students and who was working on behalf of the system.
For example, Ms. Levy pointed out that someone who works in “instructional support” might not be a teaching assistant in a classroom with students but a DCPS employee who works in “professional development.”
D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson issued a similar warning a few months back, saying that funds and programs that were specifically designed for at-risk students were being used for other purposes.
“Schools with the highest proportion of at-risk students in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have had their base funding cut and at-risk funds used for teacher and social worker pay instead of for added efforts to improve academic achievement,” Mrs. Patterson said. “In addition, high schools with large populations of students with disabilities have not received funding required by local and federal law, with at-risk funds also used to meet special education staffing requirements.
“As serious as how the funds have been misused is the issue of how they have not been used — not according to a strategy or a plan that can be tested and tweaked and improved so that we are actually getting to the issue of achievement,” the auditor said.
Those three sentences cut to the heart, with the mayor holding the reins of the D.C. school system and the D.C. Council failing to hold itself accountable for its oversight.
When a hen roosts over the henhouse, the rooster never crows.
That might sound, well, distasteful, but it’s true.
The D.C. chief financial officer isn’t sounding off about the deficit.
The deputy mayor for education isn’t complaining about the deficit either. In fact, the deputy said everyone should “calm down” because things aren’t as bad as they appear.
The mayor, meanwhile, pops around the District “investing” in her policies as if she’s spending Jeff Bezos’ billions.
A denizen of City Hall once told me to never believe what “they” say about schools. “The books are cooked.”
Politically, the cooking is deemed “reprogramming.”
Mrs. Patterson served as a member of the D.C. Council from 1995, when Mr. Clinton OK’d the control board, until 2007. The board was suspended by law 18 years ago on Monday — the same day city officials claimed that the DCPS deficit had been cut by $13 million since this summer.
What a feat — if you believe the numbers.
⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]