July 30, 2009

Budget Deficit Threatens DC Schools Ombuds

Facing a $666 million budget deficit, the District of Columbia Council looking a widespread spending cuts to avoid raising taxes and fees. The school system will likely bear some of the burden. According to the Washington Post, "Elimination of the ombudsman's office, which has come under heavy criticism by council members and community leaders for ineffectiveness, would take about $360,000 off the books." (Washington Post.)

Let's be honest about this by looking at the numbers. The budget for the DCPS Ombuds Office represents just 0.05% of the shortfall. None of the other remedies mentioned are anywhere as trivial.

Furthermore, although it has been criticized for "ineffectiveness," the DCPS Ombuds has handled and resolved about 1,400 cases involving students and staff in its first 20 months of operation. If the Ombuds was able to avoid litigation in a few of those cases (a very conservative assumption), the District has saved far, far more than it has spent on the program. (The latest audited financial statement reveals DCPS spent $1.7 million on judgments and settlements and outside counsel in 2004.) In addition, the Ombuds generated recommendations that likely will help the District avoid more problems in the future.

The inescapable conclusion is that a decision to close the DC Schools Ombuds program now would reveal political and not financial motivations.

Related posts: DC Schools Appoints Interim Ombuds; Local Politics Threaten DC Schools Ombuds; Washington Post Conflates Ombuds Reporting Line With Neutrality; DC Mayor Blocks Transfer of Public Schools Ombuds Office.

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