Math Question: How Big Is a Surplus That Doesn't Exist?

Long, confusing week over the DC school budget

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    Just over a week ago, Mayor Adrian Fenty and the Washington Teachers Union stood side-by-side to announce a forward-looking, five-year contract that was to end three years of tough and sometimes bitter negotiations.

    This week, the hope for better days crashed when Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee cited numbers --- she says she got them from the finance office -- that showed the school system was running a $34 million surplus this year.

    Union officials howled that if there's a surplus now, why were 266 teachers laid off last fall? To the union, it was proof that Rhee manufactured the fall crisis just to rid herself of teachers the system didn't want.

    D.C. School Budget Confusion

    [DC] D.C. School Budget Confusion
    Confusion remains about whether there's a D.C. Schools budget surplus or not.

    That was bad enough.  But then there was a brief squabble between Rhee and Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. In the middle of the week, Gandhi wrote a stern letter telling Rhee there is no surplus, that she was citing incomplete financial data.  Rhee said in a reply letter that she got that data from Gandhi's person assigned to the schools.

    But by week's end, Rhee had yielded to Gandhi, the independent CFO who's word on finances is final.

    Rhee told NBC4 Friday  that she was depending on Gandhi to do a complete review of the school budget and whether there's enough money to fund the teachers' contract.  If there isn't, she said, she and Fenty will find it quick.

    Until Gandhi "certifies" the money is in the budget, the union can't vote on the proposal and neither can the union membership. It could be two or more weeks before the Gandhi report is ready.

    Every week of delay means uncertainty for teachers who have been without raises for three years and stand to get 20 percent raises under the new contract over it's five-year period.