Local: Education

D.C. principals may lose control of budgets

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Photo - Washington, DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee announces her departure with Mayor Fenty and Mayor Elect Gray and her interim replacement Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, pictured, at a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC on Tuesday October 12, 2010.

Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Washington, DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee announces her departure with Mayor Fenty and Mayor Elect Gray and her interim replacement Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, pictured, at a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC on Tuesday October 12, 2010. Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson wants to take control of some school budgets away from principals who she says "are not making wise decisions" about their spending.

Henderson wants to take staffing decisions out of the hands of some principals, who currently have almost total discretion over how to use the money they receive from the city each June.

"Autonomy is earned, and if you're not making wise decisions about how to spend your money, I am going to step in," Henderson said. "Moving into this school budget season, we will be incredibly prescriptive with our principals."

Henderson announced her intention to take more direct control of the schools' budgets in response to concerns raised by D.C. Councilman David Catania, D-at large, over why schools that have high truancy rates aren't hiring full-time staff to deal with the problem.

At C.W. Harris Elementary, in the Southeast neighborhood of Marshall Heights, 20 percent of student missed more than 20 days of school last year without an excuse, but the school still didn't hire someone to track student attendance, as many other District schools do. Kenilworth Elementary didn't have an attendance counselor on its books, either, although 13 percent of the Northeast school's children missed a month or more of school.

"For next year's budget, you should be able to ask me any question about why schools are spending X and not Y, and I will have an answer for you," Henderson said.

The District's public schools spend more per student -- $18,667 -- than any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but smaller schools receive less money than larger ones, leaving their principals wondering how they could fund extra positions DCPS required without additional dollars.

"That's going to be kind of tricky ... for a smaller school, where your budget only allows for you to have A, B and C," said Atasha James, the principal of M.C. Terrell/McGogney Elementary School, who was concerned that Henderson's initiatives could take money from the Congress Heights school's own priorities.

Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for Henderson, said DCPS "will work with principals to ensure that their staffing is built to help them reach their goals and that their staff are used strategically."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner