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D.C. Mayor and City Council Blame Each Other for Shock Teacher Layoffs

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced that a reduction in force of public school teachers had become unavoidable, and schools are in full-on panic mode.
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D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced last week that a reduction in force (RIF) of public school teachers had become unavoidable given sudden budget cuts made by the City Council. Veteran teachers are about to be kicked out the door, "exited" by September 30. School are in full-on panic mode.

Rhee's letter to parents announcing the drastic measures declared:

DCPS is facing a budget shortfall for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 due to DC Council budget reductions over the summer.

This is pretty nuts. First of all, Rhee just hired 900 new teachers (in a system of 3,800) over the summer. And secondly, the DC Council says Fenty and Rhee are making up this Council-initiated reduction.

City Council Chairman Vincent Gray's office put out an incensed press release, all but calling Fenty and Rhee liars.

Some tasty excerpts:


Since the Council funded the public schools at last year's levels and with inflation holding constant, there was no reduction in the DCPS budget as the Mayor and Chancellor portray it. And, the Chairman is perplexed how a reduction in summer school funding (1.2 percent of the total DCPS budget) requires principals to reduce their budgets and for teachers to be RIF'd. He is alarmed the Administration informed principals to plan for drastic reductions in their budgets -- effectively exploiting the city's fiscal situation to implement its desired reductions in the teacher workforce.

The $20.7 million ($3.5 million + $8.1 million + $9.1 million) the Fenty Administration alleges the Council "cut" is 2.7 percent of the DCPS FY 10 budget -- hardly a substantial sum that has to be recouped by firing teachers. Clearly, the Chancellor wanted to fire these "excessed" teachers and is seeking to scapegoat the Council for her policy decision...

And...

"In the midst of our nation's worst economic recession since the Great Depression, and at a time when states and cities are being forced to drastically slash their education budgets, layoff teachers, and delay the start of school, the Council found a way to fully fund the public education budget at last year's levels while effectively closing a budget gap of nearly $140 million," Chairman Gray said. "The Mayor and Chancellor's attempts to characterize the Council's action as a reduction are disingenuous and simply not accurate."

Are Fenty and Rhee using the economic downturn as a smokescreen for a monster power grab? (Yes.) Will the 900 just-hired rookie teachers stay while veterans get shoved out the door? (Very likely.) Will this sort of brazen circumventing of contracts become a model for districts across the country? (I really hope not.)

Stay tuned -- while D.C. students, parents, and teachers hold their breath in terror.

Dan Brown is a teacher at a public charter school in Washington, D.C. and the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle. He is not a member of any teachers' union.

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