The District's chief financial officer said Thursday that a $34 million surplus in the school system's budget, cited by Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as a major source of funding for raises promised to teachers in a proposed labor contract, does not exist.
Natwar M. Gandhi's analysis, outlined in a stinging letter to Rhee, is likely to raise new questions about the prospects for an agreement between the city and the Washington Teachers' Union. The tentative accord introduced last week, which must be approved by union members and the D.C. Council, was the product of more than two years of contentious bargaining and was hailed nationally as a progressive model of education reform.
In the letter, Gandhi, who is responsible for certifying collective bargaining agreements as fiscally sound, tells Rhee that although there is a projected $34 million in "underspending" in the school operations section of the agency's budget, it is offset by an estimated $30 million in overspending in the system's central office.
In unusually blunt language, Gandhi takes Rhee to task for what he describes as a failure to adequately consult his office before mentioning the surplus at a meeting with D.C. Council members.
"I was incredulous to learn that in your April 13, 2010, presentation to the Council on the contract you asserted that a surplus is available to fund the proposed salary increases based on preliminary information," he wrote.
Rhee disputed Gandhi's assertion that the information was preliminary but said Thursday night that she had "no choice" but to accept the findings. She also said she has identified $29 million in new sources of money to restore funds Gandhi disallowed. She did not elaborate.. . .