District of Columbia residents recently told Mayor Muriel Bowser to spend more money on improving the city’s educational system. “I do think education is a priority but the question isn’t how we allocate it but how we spend,” Anthony Lorenzo Green said. Green, a Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioner, was a leader at one of the 22 tables assembled for the Feb. 25 budget engagement session held at the District’s Department of Employment Services headquarters. Two-hundred and fifty residents participated.

Muriel Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia, is scheduled to present her budget to the D.C. Council in April. (Courtesy Photo)

Muriel Bowser, Mayor of the District of Columbia, is scheduled to present her budget to the D.C. Council in April. (Courtesy Photo)

“This is our third budget season and we are determined to present third balanced budget to the D.C. Council,” said Bowser.

On April 5, the mayor will present her budget to the council. The council will hold hearings on the budget and make changes and revisions and submit it back to the mayor for approval on May 31 after the legislative body supports it on a second and final vote.

Bowser will likely sign the budget and then she will submit it to the U.S. Congress for approval of its federal funds.

The fiscal year 2018 budget will go into effect on Oct. 1.

The District’s budget is $13.4 billion with $1 billion in capital improvements. The District budget is unique in that it acts as a city, county, state and school budget, unlike most jurisdictions. The federal portion of the budget that includes Medicaid is $3.4 billion.

Bowser is in the process of creating her budget while the city is undergoing a financial boom. On Feb. 1, the District’s chief financial officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, said in a statement that the city is in excellent financial health. “We now have $1.165 billion in liquidity, which covers 56 days of the city’s operations,” he said. DeWitt said that the city can fund all cash flow needs without short term borrowing.

There were about 10 people per table including the moderator. Residents were asked to come up with budget priorities on a $100 budget.

“We need to get education right in this city,” Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles said. “If we get education right, public safety and economic development will be right.”

Niles is Bowser’s point person for the public and charter schools as well as the Community College of the District of Columbia and the University of the District of Columbia.

Niles was followed by Hyesook Chung, deputy mayor of Human Services; Acting DOES Director Odie McDonald, speaking on behalf of the economic development cluster; Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor of public safety; and Polly Donaldson, deputy mayor of Housing and Community Development.

Education was the top spending priority for each of the tables. The portion of the budgets for education ranged from 40 percent to 20 percent while government operations was downplayed or cut outright. “You don’t think government operations are important?” the mayor asked rhetorically with a sly grin on her face. “Don’t you think 9-1-1 is important?”

After education, public safety and economic development came in second and third, among most of the tables. Some tables put housing as the third priority while many acknowledge that affordable housing was an important matter for the city to tackle. “There are a lot of people who want to stay here in Washington,” Green said. “They have problems paying rent though and they don’t have the money to stay here.”

Bowser circulated to each table and greeted the participants and the members of her executive team did so also. While the majority of the residents at the session lived in eastern Washington, residents from other areas of the city came to the session, too. “I came here to Ward 7 to hear what they wanted to do,” Terry Goings, a resident of Ward 4, said. “I like Mayor Bowser’s approach where the people are engaged, as opposed to her sitting at a table and listening to people tell her what they want.”