School & District Management

Is Michelle Rhee in Trouble?

October 09, 2009 1 min read

The hard-charging District of Columbia schools chancellor is used to causing turbulence, but she is drawing the fiercest fire of her two-year tenure this week after she ordered the layoffs of nearly 400 school employees, more than half of them teachers. Yesterday, thousands of teachers and labor supporters swarmed the Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to demonstrate against the chancellor and her decision to dismiss 229 teachers, a move she says is necessary to plug a $40 million hole in the school district’s budget. The Washington Teachers Union has also filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court seeking to stop the layoffs.

Yesterday’s protest was striking for its large turnout, and the high-profile labor leaders it drew, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and the president of the AFL-CIO, Richard L. Trumka.

So Rhee, who for more than a year has been promising to deliver a “revolutionary” teachers contract that would upend decades of labor tradition in public school systems, finds herself in the spotlight for labor strife, not labor progress.

What remains very unclear, and DD can’t help but agree with some of the protesters on this one, is how Rhee was able to hire 900 new teachers over the summer only to discover a budget shortfall so huge, she had to get rid of 229 teachers a month into the school year. Is the budget gap really just a ruse to oust teachers, especially veterans that Rhee and her principals don’t like, as the WTU contends? Or, perhaps even more troubling, is there a problem with managing budgets on her team that is supposed to be stacked with smart, Blackberry-wielding whipper snappers?

Photo credit: Mark Gail/The Washington Post/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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