Tough Times at D.C.P.S.

By Elizabeth Rich — October 30, 2009 1 min read
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The debate continues in the nation’s capital over the hiring and firing of hundreds of teachers, according The Washington Post. Why did Chancellor Michele Rhee hire 934 teachers over the summer, only to turn around a few months later and fire 266 teachers when the city was faced with a $20.7 million school budget deficit? Did the chancellor know the budget cuts were coming? And why did she hire almost 25 percent more teachers to the city’s 4,000 member teaching force?

On Thursday, Chancellor Rhee faced off with Washington, D.C.'s, City Council to answer those questions and more under oath. According to council members, Rhee ignored their directive to curtail summer school to deal with the budget shortfall and instead turned around and laid off teachers, almost a third of those she hired over the summer. Many suspect she was interested in laying off older teachers, a charge she has repeatedly denied.

Criticized for a lack for transparency and poor communication, Rhee was reproached by the council for her “incredibly cavalier” decision. Her approach to dealing with the budget shortfall was called a violation of the law for manipulating the budget, by Council Chairman Vincent A. Gray. While Rhee claims she did not know about the budget shortfall, her chief financial deputy, Noah Wepman, acknowledged he knew about the budget cuts mid-July while the school system was in the midst of hiring teachers. He said he briefed Rhee and that they discussed layoffs as a means to trimming the budget.

For her turn, Rhee defended her decision, explaining that it was more important to salvage summer school than to save teacher jobs. “I would have not have taken this step had I had not believed that the advantages to going this route, in the long run, far outweigh the short term disadvantages,” she said.

The teachers’ union, which has denounced the October layoffs as “illegal,” claiming Rhee just wanted to get rid of older teachers, has gone to court to reinstate those who were laid off.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.