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Posted at 4:48 PM ET, 04/13/2010

Rhee back in trouble with D.C. teachers

By Valerie Strauss

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee still hasn’t learned perhaps the most important part of her job: Good communication.

Just as she was earning kudos for reaching a historic contract with teachers and appeared to be starting anew with the teaching force, she plopped herself right in the middle of a new controversy about last year’s firing of 266 teachers.

How did this happen? Because she wasn’t straightforward in handling important budget information.

Today she told the D.C. Council that retroactive pay raises for teachers under the proposed contract would be paid, in part, out of a $34 million surplus in the school system’s budget, according to my colleague Bill Turque.

A surplus? Of $34 million?

When Rhee laid off the teachers last year, she said they had to go because of a $43 million budget gap. That action caused enormous grief for Rhee, with teachers protesting and even taking her to court. She won, persuading a judge that the deficit was real and that the layoffs were necessary.

But, she said today, there had been, in fact, faulty mathematical calculations by city officials and there really isn’t a deficit. There’s actually a surplus.

Rhee said that estimates of teacher salaries were higher than they should have been last year, resulting in an unexpected surplus. And, she said, she didn’t learn about it until February, a few months after the teachers were pushed off the district payroll.


It’s the middle of April.

If you take her at her word, that she didn’t know until February, one might speculate that Rhee kept the news to herself because she was negotiating the contract with teachers and didn't want the talks to blow up.

Now, of course, union members may refuse to take money for raises that they know is available as a result of teacher layoffs. They may not. The union is calling for the laid off teachers to be reinstated.

Whatever they do, what is disturbing is Rhee’s continued refusal to be up front with city residents about important information regarding school financing. She somehow thinks the information is hers to dispense when the timing is right -- for her.

It would be best for D.C. kids if Michelle Rhee’s reform effort actually works in improving schools.

It’s just hard to see how that is going to happen when she keeps landing herself in situations that only increase people’s mistrust of her.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 13, 2010; 4:48 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  Chancellor Michelle Rhee, D.C. schools, D.C. schools and budget, D.C. teacher firings and Rhee, D.C. teachers, D.C. teachers and Rhee, D.C. teachers contract, Rhee and D.C. Council, Rhee and D.C. teachers, Rhee and controversy, teacher layoffs and D.C.  
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"It's okay! I found $34 million in the pocket of my winter coat. Raises all around!"

--Michelle Rhee

"Get this incompetent, lying, teacher-hating weasel out of our lives D. C. Council members."

--266 former DCPS employees

Posted by: natturner | April 13, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Rhee falls back on the claim that she's not a liar, just incompetent. In reality, she's both.

Posted by: mcstowy | April 13, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

People like me might just get angry with Rhee's frequent fabrications, but the judge who heard the layoff case is surely in a position to take appropriate action. Let's hope so.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 13, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

34---43 She's not lying, she's dyslexic!!!

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 13, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

we were thrown out in the apartment coz we cannot pay.and in the middle of school its hard to find a job for the teachers.. .. right now our cars is not yet paid for 4 months now and the bank will reposes the car..and a big psycological effect to our kids .. firing you michelle rhee is not enough..JUSTICE we want JUSTICE..

Posted by: bongtatay | April 13, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Really, why isn't the City Council holding Rhee to the same standards that she is holding teachers to? This type of mistake is unacceptable. How sad, teachers lost jobs, homes, cars, and are struggling financially due to a math error really? Wake up DC Rhee cannot be trusted and is incompetent! FIRE RHEE NOW!

Posted by: dcteacherresident | April 13, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse


One might say incompetent until one recalls her Baltimore Miracle, her speech at 3:45pm back in Oct before the county council
the "rising scores" at Shaw Middle School.

Posted by: edlharris | April 13, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

bongtatay - are you a teacher? if so, you need to work on your spelling and grammar. Even in informal writing, an educated person should do better than that.

I hope you're just someone trying to make teachers look bad.

Posted by: efavorite | April 13, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, bongtatay, your answer looks fake or like maybe Rhee wasn't so awful to fire you after all.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 13, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse


From the most basic math required to provide a professional standard of care for the futures of our children and the teachers who must care for them; to the sudden, extreme and incredulous increase of DC/CAS scores relative to NAEP test scores that have remained static during her reign; these are some of the issues that the U.S. Department of Education questioned when placing our DCPS last among finalists for the "Race to the Top" prize.

Whether the Chancellor is incompetent, pathological, a liar, or any combination of the above... she has proved to be an embarrassment to this great city and to those who have supported well-reasoned school reform policies. She has hurt too many innocent people in her arrogant and ignorant pursuit of greatness, and she has unnecessarily created divisions between local communities, races, and even between young and old. And the Chancellor has described those who challenge her quixotic path towards reform as putting “adult interests ahead our children’s future”.

I have this message for those who are still willing to defend this champion of our children's future; YOU ARE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY.

The Chancellor has made the case that test scores, budget responsibility, and personal accountability are the Holy Trinity of education reform policy. But her tortured design of statistical analysis and fuzzy math that supported past decisions are now in direct conflict with those that she believes is now required to advance her latest agenda.

In this latest example, when it was convenient for DCPS to be in budget deficit, she fired teachers. Six months later she endorses teacher performance bonuses and we learn of hidden treasures that she had a clear responsibility to disclose. By her own admission, she knew of the “budget miscalculation” in January, but made a conscious decision to keep this information from the public and the elected members responsible for DCPS oversight until now. The fact that the proposed teacher contract agreement makes any future raises contingent on the money being available would make anyone suspicious. But now we understand that the Chancellor is willing to conceal funds from the City Council until it is practical.

When faced with consequences of her failures, the Chancellor’s constant refrain has been that someone else made a mistake, or that predictable events were not predictable, or that undesirable data is inconclusive. In short, our Chancellor has been the very antithesis of the accountability. adults that she hopes to attract to DCPS to teach our children.

By her own standards, the Chancellor would have fired herself long ago. But she is buoyed by those who believe that maintaining positive school reform efforts and future progress will be best served by accepting her brand of bad tasting medicine, no matter how toxic. We need to be willing to say publicly that the Chancellor has no clothes, because her mirror is surely broken.

Posted by: AGAAIA | April 14, 2010 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Rhee should have been fired long ago. She says she has improved DC school system. What she has done is create an non-learning environment. The fundalmental to learning is listening and she hasn't listen to anyone other than her inner self. What the DC school system needs is return to basic, abolish charter schools, put money back into back to basic education. We need to teach the basics before they can pass a test. Currently we are teaching children to pass a test and teaching teachers to be excellent script readers with very little knowledge of what they are teaching -- which isn't necessary because they have a approved written script to follow. It is amazing that all our "leders" were taught basics and succeeded and now we are teaching test taking skills. What have they learned from a teacher reading to them, how to stay awake.

Posted by: thelmaadams11 | April 14, 2010 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Why can't I get to the article, "Rhee says conspiracy theorists are wrong?" I have been following this story and am curious. Your links aren't working.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 14, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

the link from the local page works, but not from the Education Page.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 14, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I truly believe that bongtatay is trying to be funny and insulting to teachers at the same time.

I hope he is not trying to indicate that the teachers of DC write or speak in this manner.

A Rhee fan for sure.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | April 14, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

When is Joann Armao going to make excuses for the 34 million that just happened to show in Febuary?

Posted by: jlp19 | April 14, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

"When is Joann Armao going to make excuses for the 34 million that just happened to show in February?"

When she finishes twisting herself into a pretzel, which is taking a lot longer this time because this latest offense is such a challenge to her creativity.

She's probably spent the last two days in yoga class just trying to get limbered up.

Posted by: efavorite | April 14, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

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