Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
School & District Management Opinion

Firing the District of Columbia’s Central Office - Or Turning it Into a Political Fiefdom?

December 10, 2007 3 min read

Yesterday, I provided provisions of the District of Columbia Code relevant to the present debate over the status of employees in the DC Public Schools central office. Today, my analysis. It may be somewhat unexpected.How staff are fired today

It would not be surprising for a new Chancellor like Michelle Rhee to decide that some central office staff should be removed - fired - because they don’t do their jobs, don’t buy into the new program, or are in some way corrupt. Under the DC Code Section 1-616.51 this could be accomplished under regulations promulgated by the Mayor, within a few legal constraints.

The staff member would have to removed for reasons identified in the regulations and provided with notice of the reasons before being fired. Normally, the employee should have a written opportunity to be heard prior to separation. However, the Chancellor may remove the staffer immediately “to protect the integrity of government operations.”
Under Section 1-616.52, the employee may appeal the removal to the Office of Employee Appeals, but does not have a right to remain in place.

Why protect government employees?

The effect of these rules is simple – before the Chancellor can fire someone she needs to be sure of her case. She needs to have well-documented grounds for her decision. Why does every government agency in the United States – federal, state and local – have these rules? Because we don’t want every new administration to hire and fire arbitrarily; we want government’s administrative functions to be insulated from electoral politics; we want a check on arbitrary leadership.

What the Mayor and Chancellor want

Rather than finding a few bad apples, the Chancellor seems to have concluded that the overwhelming majority of some 150 central office staff are not competent. Instead of proceeding against each of these employees, she has convinced the Mayor to ask the City Council to give her sole power to decide who will stay or go. In effect, the Mayor’s proposal would separate all of these employees from the system – with severance but without appeal, and the Chancellor would have sole authority to decide whom to rehire. These rehires and anyone hired to fill the spots vacated by those separated from the system would be hired or fired “at-will;” to be precise, at the Chancellor’s will - for any reason, or no reason (except on the basis of age, race, etc). The bill says nothing about the criteria the Chancellor would apply to future terminations for very good reason – if it did, the employment status wouldn’t be “at will.”

A “one-time” option

No one is going to argue that the DC school system is not in a state of emergency. If this mass firing were a one-time event, grounded in an agreement by the City Council that the current staff is so lacking in capacity that the central office should be reconsitituted like a school - with everyone let go, reapplying for their jobs, and subject to the Chancellor’s approval, but NOT as at-will employees - I could probably accept it as a matter of public policy. I would prefer the Chancellor to set up a special unit to gather the evidence identifying the people who should be let go – the absence of this record gives any firing at least the appearance of being arbitrary and capricious. Still, I’ll admit that members of the City Council are far better positioned to judge whether that approach makes less sense and does more damage than tearing the central staff down and starting over. (I hope they have the evidence to make the decision on the merits.) Without the proposal’s at-will provision, a one-time change would solve the immediate problem identified by Chancellor, without too much risk of turning the school system into a political fiefdom for future Mayors.

Why the Mayor didn’t make this limited proposal in the first place is entirely beyond me.

Someone on the City Council should ask.

Thursday: What Do Fenty, Rhee and DCPS reform have to do with the school improvement industry anyway? More than you might think. Please come back and have a look. Tomorrow’s “Letter From” may offer helpful background.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Assistant Director of Technical Solutions
Working from home
EdGems Math LLC

Read Next

School & District Management New CDC Research Backs Biden Push for In-Person Schooling
New studies add to evidence that schools can reopen safely, if they follow strong pandemic safety protocols.
8 min read
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
A staff member holds the door open for students on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas, last August.
Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via AP
School & District Management ‘Spying’ on Teachers? District Accused of Scouring for Staff Flouting COVID-19 Safety
A Fla. district used social media posts of teachers partying, traveling, & maskless to undercut their union's argument for working remotely.
Scott Travis
4 min read
Image shows close up of a line art eye with a group of people silhouetted in the reflection of the pupil.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week (Images: filo/DigitalVision Vectors + Getty)
School & District Management Opinion Parents Berating Teachers? Making Decisions Without the Data? Advice for Principals
A year marred by COVID-19 has created new challenges for principals. Here are some answers.
6 min read
Principal Advice SOC
Getty and Vanessa Solis/Education Week
School & District Management Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals
Months into the pandemic, elementary principals say they still want training in crucial areas to help students who are struggling.
3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
Maria Casinos/iStock/Getty