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Posted at 1:44 PM ET, 09/22/2009

A Troubling Trend in D.C. Schools

By Washington Post Editors

Reporters like to declare a trend when they see at least three examples of the same phenomenon.

Based on the rules of trends, The Answer Sheet sees a troubling trend involving D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and what seems to be her difficulty in being forthcoming.

Example #1: Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced last week that budget cuts in the District were suddenly forcing them to cut up to $40 million from D.C. schools and that teachers would have to be laid off just as the new year was starting.

The Sheet wondered that day why nobody in the city had seen this coming. It turned out that the mayor signed off on the cuts that were approved July 31 by the City Council and that anybody in the school system paying attention to budget issues clearly knew what was going on. Still, Rhee allowed principals to hire about 900 new teachers over the summer.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (who, it should be said, may challenge Fenty in the next mayoral election), charged that Rhee was using the cuts as a pretext to get rid of unionized teachers even as she negotiates a new teachers contract with the teachers union.

He isn’t the only one in the city who thinks so.

Example #2: This is a continuation of Example #1.

When Rhee announced that teachers would be laid off, she said there would be time for public input into the process.

But, my colleague Bill Turque reported reported, just two days after the Fenty-Rhee announcement, principals were told by memo that they had until the NEXT DAY to identify positions they wanted to eliminate.
That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of time to me.

Example #3: At the start of the school year there was a flap over news that Fenty was sending his two young sons to a D.C. public school that was outside the boundaries of the mayor’s neighborhood — and that he had not gone through the official lottery process.

The problem here isn’t where the mayor sends his boys to school. A D.C. mayor should not have to send his/her children to a public school to make a political point.

Mayor Marion Barry’s son went for a time to private St. Albans School when Barry was mayor. And lots of D.C. parents get their children into schools outside their neighborhood boundaries without going through the lottery. It happens.

The problem was that Rhee said publicly that no rules or policies were violated — but she wouldn’t say whether the Fenty boys jumped over other children on a waiting list to go to Lafayette Elementary School. That would have violated rules or policies.

D.C. public school parents told me that it was obvious to them that Fenty’s children were given preference, and that Fenty and Rhee were trying to post hoc justify the decision rather than admit what really happened.

What really happened vs. what schools officials say happened is the theme of this unsettling trend. Instead of telling the public what she is going to do and when she is going to do it, Rhee is finding it easier not to be open about important decisions.

To be sure, the D.C. school system is a tough organization with which to wrestle. I covered the system for years and watched one superintendent after another try to improve things and then leave in frustration. Rhee, after two years, keeps fighting it out. Good for her.

But the difficulty of the job doesn’t give her the right to obfuscate or prevaricate. Rhee exponentially complicates her job every time she tells the public something is true when it isn’t. Some parents and teachers in the District have already concluded that they can’t trust her. She can’t afford to lose any more public trust.

By Washington Post Editors  | September 22, 2009; 1:44 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  d.c. schools, mayor adrian fenty, michelle rhee  
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Comments

What the public doesn't sense is the level of anxiety that these teachers are feeling right now, being in a state of not knowing, between now and September 30, whether or not their job security will remain in tact.

Posted by: starclimber9 | September 23, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

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