School & District Management

D.C. Chancellor Gains Authority to Fire Central-Office Employees

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 08, 2008 1 min read
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Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the public school system in the nation’s capital, soon will have the authority to fire employees in the central office, a step that the schools chief has said is central to her plans for improving the troubled district.

The District of Columbia Council approved a measure last month to reclassify nearly 500 central-office workers whom Ms. Rhee will be able to fire without cause. The panel was expected to give the measure its final legislative approval this week.

Employees who are covered by collective bargaining contracts and who were hired to work in the school system before Jan. 1, 1980, will not be affected by the measure, which passed Dec. 18 on a 10-3 vote. Ms. Rhee has not said how many eligible employees she expects to be affected.

The council rejected an alternative measure—proposed by city labor leaders, including the Washington Teachers Union—that would have limited central-office firings to managers and would have allowed for those employees to be trained for other jobs.

Ample Notice of Termination

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who voted for granting Ms. Rhee the firing authority, offered amendments to help address concerns that central-office employees were being unfairly singled out, including a requirement that all workers receive regular performance reviews and be given ample notice of termination. He told fellow council members that he would require regular oversight hearings to ensure that Ms. Rhee and her leadership team use their new authority fairly.

“Our zeal for excellence should not lead to the conclusion that everyone is incompetent just because they work in the central office,” he said.

Council member Marion Barry Jr., a former mayor of Washington, voted against the measure, saying that it puts employees’ due-process rights “in a trash can.”

Ms. Rhee, a founder of the New Teacher Project and a former inner-city teacher for three years, has said repeatedly that getting rid of ineffective and incompetent employees in the 49,000-student district is critical to her strategy for overhauling the school system and raising student achievement.

The council also voted last month to approve Ms. Rhee’s request of $81 million in additional funding for the district to help pay for her plans to close 23 city schools by next fall and to partially cover a deficit in the system’s $1 billion budget.

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2008 edition of Education Week as D.C. Chancellor Gains Authority To Fire Central-Office Employees

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