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Financially Strapped D.C. Axes 300 Teaching Positions

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As the District of Columbia struggled to stay financially afloat last week, its school board agreed to jettison 300 teaching and 180 central-office positions, hack seven school days off the calender, and abandon a variety of programs.

The board's budget cuts--totaling nearly $32 million--failed, nonetheless, to stave off demands for new reductions and the threat that the school system would be put under tighter control by city officials or the U.S. Congress.

Washington's city government, which has a general-fund budget of $3.2 billion, is facing an estimated budget shortfall of $722 million.

The fiscal 1995 budget for the school system was $511 million after last week's cuts.

Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. called the fiscal crisis the worst in the city's history. Noting that the city council allocates money to schools but that the elected school board has control over how the money is spent, Mr. Barry said he needs more control over school spending to avoid a federal takeover of the city's administration.

"If we don't do this, there are those waiting to do this for us," Mayor Barry said last week as he announced furloughs and substantial reductions in the city's workforce.

Capitol Hill Scrutiny

The mayor's proposed budget cuts appeared to do little to appease Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., who chairs the Congressional subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia's fiscal affairs.

Mr. Walsh said he had lost confidence in the city's ability to manage or even accurately report its finances, and he predicted that a federal takeover of the city's finances was inevitable.

If Congress, which has ultimate authority over the District of Columbia under the U.S. Constitution, places the city in receivership--or otherwise moves to strip it of self-governance--the school district might then answer to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The city council had asked in December that the school board reduce its budget by $32 million. Superintendent Franklin L. Smith last week submitted a list of proposed reductions that included cutting seven more days from a school year that already has lost three days as a result of court-ordered school closings last fall because of fire-code violations.

The board approved the superintendent's recommendations.

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