School & District Management

D.C. Schools Chancellor Wins Power to Fire Central-Office Workers

By Lesli A. Maxwell — December 18, 2007 1 min read
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Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the troubled public school system in the nation’s capital, soon will have the authority to fire hundreds of workers in the central office after the District of Columbia Council approved a measure today to grant her that power.

In a 10-3 vote, the council agreed to reclassify nearly 500 central-office workers whom Ms. Rhee will have the authority to fire without cause. Employees who are covered by collective bargaining contracts and who were hired to work in the public school system before 1980 will not be affected by the measure.

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

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who voted for granting Ms. Rhee firing authority, offered minor amendments to help address concerns that central-office employees were being unfairly singled out. 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, a former mayor of the city, voted against the measure, saying that it puts employees’ due-process rights “in a trash can.”

Ms. Rhee, an inner-city school teacher for three years and a founder of the New Teacher Project, 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.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty tapped Ms. Rhee, who has no previous experience as a school administrator, to be the city’s schools chief in June, the same day that he officially took control over the system. Mr. Fenty has made education reform the centerpiece of his mayoralty.

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