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Some D.C. Council Members "Shocked" By Budget Surplus After Teacher Layoffs

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D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray says he wants answers about the District's school's budget from Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Chief Financial Officer Dr. Natwar Gandhi.
Kavitha Cardoza
D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray says he wants answers about the District's school's budget from Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Chief Financial Officer Dr. Natwar Gandhi.

By Kavitha Cardoza

Several D.C. council members say they are "shocked and appalled" by the school's chancellor’s recent disclosure that there is a $34 million surplus in her budget. Just a few months ago, Michelle Rhee laid off more than 250 teachers, citing a budget shortfall.

Rhee says she found out about the surplus money in February. She wants to use the money to help fund the tentative contract agreement, recently negotiated with the union. But council members, who have to sign off on the contract and it’s funding, say they want answers first.

Council Chairman Vincent Gray says he’s sending a list of questions to the chief financial officer as well as the chancellor, "Specifically focused on the availability of the dollars and where they’re coming from," says Gray.

Rhee has said she wouldn’t rehire the laid off teachers. But Councilman Harry Thomas says he’s planning to introduce emergency legislation to remedy that.

"I would ask for immediate reinstatement of those teachers, saying their budget was wrong and the numbers were wrong and the RIF shouldn’t have happened," he says.

Councilman Marion Barry, who’s been sharply critical of Rhee, says this is "awful."

"Lives are being harmed, people have lost mortgages, lost apartments, their reputations have been ruined," says Barry.

But Barry says he believes the contract should be voted on because the surplus money and the contract are two separate issues.

"It’s almost too manipulative and too contrived to be believable," says Council Member Mary Cheh, who wants to know who knew what, and when. She says this will hurt the council's trust in Rhee.

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