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Council Chair Gray on Schools, Guns and More

Earlier this afternoon, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray took readers' questions. Here are some excerpts from the discussion:

Temple Hills, Md.: Chancellor Rhee has put over 400 certified and tenured (including special education) teachers on probation in order to terminate them by the end of March. Will they lose their benefits or will they be given an opportunity to retire with full benefits under age 55? Many of the teachers have twenty years or more and are under the retirement age of 55. What will happen to the students at this time of year who will have no instructor? I personally think terminating teachers, especially at this time of year, is going to result in overcrowded classes that will include special needs children in regular classes with no special ed teacher thus resulting in ineffective teaching. Perhaps, this is what the Chancellor wants so she can put more certified and tenured teachers on probation.

Vincent C. Gray: The Council is conducting a public hearing on January 16th on teacher quality. We intend to raise a number of questions at that hearing about the basis for placing teachers on probation and how DCPS intends to address the myriad issues associated with this. We continue to be deeply concerned about DCPS and the Washington Teachers Union being able to reach an agreement which would allow far more predictability in the relationship of teachers to DCPS.

Washington, D.C.: Please discuss your proposal to conduct and independent evaluation of policies and programs put in place by school chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Vincent C. Gray: This is not just a proposal. The Public Education Reform Amendment Act, which became law in June 2007, contains a provision that an Annual Evaluation shall be conducted. At the end of five years, there is to be an assessment of the entire period to determine progress. The Mayor nominated two people to conduct the evaluation last April. The Council conducted a public hearing at the end of May and decided it would not approve them because, while they are eminently qualified professionals, they also have a position on Mayoral takeovers. Moreover, we were concerned that the Mayor proposed to pay for this through a private fund. Despite making a formal inquiry, we were unable to learn the source of these private funds. Both of these issues left me with discomfort about moving forward on this nomination and approach. We have received no other nominations from the Mayor. Thus, we are looking at taking additional steps in order to move forward on this overdue legislative requirement.

Washington, D.C.: It does not appear feasible that the FY 2010 budget can be balanced with service cuts alone. Will the Council consider a balanced approach to balancing the budget that includes service cuts as well as tax increases? If yes, what type of tax increases would be on the table?

Vincent C. Gray: The Council approved $131 Million in cuts to the current year budget in November. In the course of that reduction, we established a $46 Million Operating Cash Reserve in the event additional reductions became necessary.

Just days ago, we learned that a new forecast indeed indicates an additional reduction of $127 Million in our revenue. We face very difficult challenges for the FY 2010 budget and thus, we must look at all options. We have made no specific decisions as yet on what, if any, tax increases might be considered.

Columbia Heights, D.C.: I like to know the status of the "new" D.C. gun law? Also, why does the council insist on passing gun laws that we know the courts will strike down? I'm all for keeping handguns off the streets, but thumbing your nose at the Supreme Court is both foolhardy and expensive to tax payers.

Vincent C. Gray: The Council adopted new legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court's Heller decision. The permanent legislation was adopted on December 16th. We believe this legislation is consistent with the Heller decision.

Read the full transcript for answers about the city's Web site, plans for the University of the District of Columbia, the Council's legislative process and more.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  January 5, 2009; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Council , Education , Gun Ban Case  
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