Last week, in the nation’s capital, 38-year-old Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced that there would be a reduction in force of the city’s 3,800 teachers due to “unanticipated” cuts to the budget by the City Council, according to The Washington Post. A controversial figure locally since her appointment in the spring of 2007 by Mayor Adrian Fenty to head up Washington, D.C.'s troubled school system, Rhee has became something of a media darling outside the Beltway—appearing on the cover of Time magazine in the now-famous picture of her in a classroom, holding a broom; in the pages of The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Harper’s, The New York Times; and on the public radio and air waves.
In the wake of the RIF announcement, many—including George Parker, head of the Washington Teachers Union—have questioned why Rhee hired 900 new teachers over the summer and how she could have been blindsided by budget cuts, given the financial stress the city was under.
This week, the Huffington Post ran a blog item, written by a D.C. charter school teacher, which pointed to the possibility that hiring a lot of new teachers over the summer and then blaming the City Council for money problems might just be a ploy by Rhee to fire the ones she’d like to get rid of. The blog item included excerpts from a press release from the City Council chairman’s office that blasted Rhee and Fenty as liars. The release states that "[The chairman] 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.”
A recent editorial in The Washington Post suggests that even if Rhee is hiding behind the budget in order to fire teachers she has long struggled with the union to get rid of, she’s still entitled “to take action against teachers whose hold on their jobs has little to do with their value to their students.” But in a city whose teachers are starting year three without a contract, the paper makes a plea for the union to focus on reaching a contract agreement with the chancellor rather than picketing her office, as planned next week, over the RIFs.
Where does this leave teachers? Likely biting their nails until September 30th when pink slips are to be issued.
Update, September 25 Education Week blog District Dossier has the inside scoop on today’s The Washington Post magazine story about Michelle Rhee.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.