Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington has asked local lawmakers to grant his schools chancellor more authority to fire hundreds of central-office staff members, as he and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee move aggressively to overhaul the troubled school system in the nation’s capital.
In legislation submitted to the District of Columbia Council this month, the mayor proposes that personnel rules be amended to reclassify 754 of the office’s 934 employees as “at will” workers, who would serve at the discretion of Ms. Rhee. Employees could accept the at-will classification or quit with severance pay, according to the mayor’s office.
The 180 other employees in the central office belong to unions, and would not be affected by the proposed legislation. But Ms. Rhee has said she wants expanded authority to fire union personnel as well, including ineffective teachers.
The school district’s central office has long been criticized as dysfunctional and as unfriendly to staff members and the community. Ms. Rhee, tapped by Mr. Fenty to lead the 50,000-student system four months ago, when he won control of the schools, said in a statement that improving the operations of the central office is a top priority, and that she cannot do it without the power to remove ineffective employees.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, which includes several unions with members in the school district’s central office, is talking with the mayor and the chancellor about ways to ensure fair treatment of employees without giving the chancellor blanket authority to fire people, said Chris Garlock, the council’s coordinator.
Nathan A. Saunders, the general vice president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said the 4,400-member American Federation of Teachers affiliate views the proposal as a threat to workers’ rights.
“Any employee in the District of Columbia public schools who is not performing or is ineffective should be dealt with on the basis of cause, and their rights to due process should always be preserved,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2007 edition of Education Week