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Rhee: Cutbacks Neither Mismanagement Nor Malice

Did Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee engineer the impending round of DCPS layoffs by filling 900 jobs over the summer, knowing full well that the District's financial condition would ultimately force her to reduce staff? She says no.
Does she want to use the cutbacks as an opportunity to rid the system of teachers she considers underperforming? She says yes.
Are veteran teachers at risk? Yes and no.

That was the essence of a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation with Rhee, who has the District's 3,800-member teacher corps in knots, what with layoffs, a rigorous new evaluation system and a revamped disciplinary code that calls on them to to work harder to keep difficult kids in class. Teachers are scheduled to rally later this afternoon in front of D.C. school offices on North Capitol St. in opposition to "RIFs" (reductions in force) and other Rhee measures.
Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker, among others, has wondered out loud why Rhee waited three weeks into the school year -- and nearly seven weeks after the D.C. Council sliced $20.7 million from the 2010 DCPS budget--to announce the still-unspecified number of job cuts. He called it mismanagement at best, and at worst a cynical backdoor effort to replace established teachers with freshly-minted young graduates of Teach For America and other increasingly popular alternative training programs.
Rhee said Wednesday that after settling with the council in June on a projected enrollment for fiscal year 2010 (44,681), she thought the budget was set.
"I really thought that after we had come to agreement on the enrollment piece, I thought that was the extent of it. I had no indication whatsoever that the council would make any kind of adjustments in August."
Rhee said she waited until the third week of the new school term to act on the reductions because she wanted to couple it with the annual fall "equalization" process that shifts staff from under-enrolled schools to buildings that exceed their projections and need more teachers. The alternative, she said, would have been two cycles of disruption -- one in August to address the new budget cuts, and another in September when the dust settles around enrollment. The latest count shows 45,322, better than the 45,054 Rhee originally forecast this spring. Figures won't be official until after an audit that begins next month.
Moreover, Rhee said that even if the council had protected DCPS from cuts this summer, there would still be a smaller round of job cuts because of the need for "continued rightsizing" of the system. After closing 23 schools at the end of the 2008 academic year, she said DCPS was left with too many custodians, librarians, social workers and guidance counselors. This accounts, Rhee said, for some of the discrepancy between the amount the council adjustment ($20.7 million) and her estimate of the overall reduction, which she placed at between $30 million and $40 million.
Following White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's dictum ("Never let a serious crisis go to waste") Rhee said she also intends to use the cuts as an added opportunity to weed out those she regards as under-performers.
"I'm trying to figure out how to manage the realities in a way that will benefit kids," she said. "As we are having to downsize staff are we [looking at] people who add the least value? Absolutely."
Rhee said that means novices as well as veterans. In meeting with principals this week, Rhee said some wanted to drop as many younger hires considered "mistakes," as they did older staff.
Parker said the union will be watching that, "very, very closely."

By Washington Post editors  |  September 24, 2009; 11:52 AM ET
 
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Comments

weird - if true, it took a surprisingly short time for the principals to realize that some of their new hires were "mistakes" - especially since many of them are brand new teachers who certainly could use a little settling-in period.

The idea of anyone being accurately rated a few weeks into the school year is a sham. But Rhee just loves to focus on those "bad" teachers so anyone let go has to be tainted as ineffective and low-performing.

If anyone was rating her on management prowess, she'd be out long ago.

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Just a buch of BS! The principals got the memo of the RIF on Sept. 18th. What criteria in the beginning of the school year determines an ineffective teacher? Some of these brand spanking new principals don't even know their staffs well enough to document that. They certainly haven't had the time to evaluate teachers using the new tool. Staff development on that process just happened as well. Just what a person with "abusive narcissistic personality disorder"would do. Blame the council for her fiscal mismanagement and as a scapegoat for poor decision making in hiring 900 people in a downsizing economy and making principals do the dirty work for an agency initiated action. Since principals could not possibly have had time to evaluate a teacher's perfomance this early in the year,you must be looking more closely at tenure. Tenure when a RIF is in action is a part of DCMR to be included and "not" to be used as a tool to banish. So "let them eat cake" minded Marie Antoinette, you get the loudest, boldest, sincerest, "YOU LIE" shoutout of the week! PS. Don't call Jim Graham for advice. He's got problems of his own.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 24, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

candycane - see you at the rally?

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Getting dressed now efavorite!

Posted by: candycane1 | September 24, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful - If I weren't so paranoid that "they" would be looking around, I'd tell you how to identify me.

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I know. When we win this war,we'll have a posters party.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 24, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

What chapter of this novel are we up to now? Whatever the chapter, it should be called "You Lie".

Thanks candycane1 for clearly stating the facts. I am almost tired of reading about Rhee's lies and corruptible behavior.

Someone needs to inform her about referring to the children as kids (baby goats). Real educators call them students or children.

Maybe she is the real "Billy Goat Gruff" instead of the Chancellor.

Posted by: shank2sb | September 24, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Rhee lies ... Rhee said, "blah, blah, blah ... I'm upset because it's supposedly all about the children and I want to know who can learn and/or teach under such conditions. She's turned the classroom into a battleground and the real war is just beginning. She's given the classroom no real support and has used the opportunity to critique and criticize but not help. Whatever happened to train and retraining. How are students going to really learn in a building full of nervous, new teachers who are so terrified of their own shadow that they can't function in such extreme conditions. Every new teacher needs a veteran teacher for guidance and support. I'm just totally disgusted with Michelle Rhee and here quest to change the makeup of the school system. She's incompetent and reckless and I'm going to be down there, honking my horn and screaming at the top of my lungs. I'm just so sick of her policies!

Posted by: wtf1 | September 24, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm actually amazed that anyone even WANTS to teach in DC anymore. This crap is just sad. And no matter who she brings in - teaching starts at home. My guess is, if the kids dont respect the older teachers they d@mn sure wont respect the younger. Get to the root of the problem before offering a bs solution. Hire and Fire will not change a thing for the better. DC politics are the absolute worst.

Posted by: boo2 | September 24, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how Candy Peterson and the other teachers here are allowed to blog and post comments during the school day. We the taxpayers are paying your salary - get back to work!

Posted by: heatherdc1980 | September 24, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

As a former central office administrator I can confirm that the dismissal of a large majority of DCPS teachers was discussed if not planned when Ms. Rhee assumed her appointed position. The dismissals were to be based not on verifiable and documented performance but age and tenure. It was stated that any teacher who has been in the classroom more than five years had to be ineffective and needed to be replaced. Instructions were given that evaluations must not be higher than "needs improvement" regardless of performance. It was stated that the intent was to build a case for dismissal. Anyone refusing to adhere to these commands in carrying out the evaluation process met with harsh consequences. Unfortunately there is no transparency in or accountability for this current administration and it is difficult if not impossible to obtain accurate information or data, unless you are on the inside and really know what is going on. Sadly, children are the least of this administration's priorities.

Posted by: highquality4kids | September 24, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

@heatherdc1980 - did you look at the entry times on Ms. Peterson's blog? They are at 6am, midnight, 7pm. She is working hard, and still takes the time to share important communication with the public. Teaching is not a 9-5 job. Teachers work all the time. Lesson planning, grading, problem solving, etc., and once in awhile they have to figure out when to eat.

Posted by: TinaDC1 | September 24, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

highquality4kids please pass this Central office info on to Councilmember Mendelson. He did not vote for the school take-0ver by Fenty.

pmendelson@dccouncil.us

Posted by: shank2sb | September 24, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

heatherdc - FYI: candycane1 is not Candi Peterson

highquality4kids - I hope you're grossly overstating the situation at 825. If not and if you can corroborate your statements, please contact Turque. This sounds like something he should investigate further.

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

highquality4kids: you say, "Instructions were given that evaluations must not be higher than "needs improvement" regardless of performance"

I know for a fact that at least one principal told his/her teachers that in fall '08 - a year after Rhee arrived. I also know that many teachers throughout the system received "exceeds" or "meets expectations" evaluations from 07-09. So something isn't right.

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately I am not understating nor overstating, just simply stating the facts as were told to us. I am confident efavorite that I was not the only administrator who could not adhere to the evaluation mandate. My employees were evaluated on their documented performance and exceeded "needs improvement". The evaluations were repeatedly sent back to me with a directive to change them as they were "too high" (although I was the only person with knowledge of the employee's work performance). As a consequence of my not changing the evaluations, initiatives I was in the process of implementing were blocked and I was told that "Ms. Rhee's philosophy was different from mine". Her "philosophy", or even her vision was never shared with us. There are many facts that if known would give the community great concern and pause for thought.

Posted by: highquality4kids | September 24, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

heatherdc1980 aka Heather Migdon aka former DC Teacher Chic-

You quit teaching in the middle of last school year because you couldn't handle one class of elementary school children. You love to sit on your high horse pointing fingers and blaming all of those lowly teachers, yet you couldn't handle the pressure and screwed over an entire classroom of students for a school year.

It is very disruptive and selfish to abandon a classroom mid year because you didn't like your principal. This is especially the case when you can't even blame yourself let alone Rhee for not giving you the training and supports you needed.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 24, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

highquality4kids - OK, if that's the case, then it's time for you to start talking to authorities - to the city council and the press.

It does no good to just say it here. You need to say it in a way that can have impact on other DCPS employees.

The time to cover for Rhee and company is certainly over.

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

"After closing 23 schools at the end of the 2008 academic year, she said DCPS was left with too many custodians, librarians, social workers and guidance counselors."

Does this mean that the majority of those RIFed will be custodians, librarians, social workers and guidance counselors?

If not than it only makes sense that she hired 900 teachers so that she would be forced to do a RIF. We just have to remember the Time cover and the many comments she made about getting rid of the existing teaching staff.

Posted by: StudentAdvocate | September 24, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

heatherdc1980 EXCUSE YOU! I am not Candi Peterson. You pay my salary? Wrong again. But I do know that too many of my tax dollars were wasted on your failures. Don't tell me to get back to work. The job you want me to get back to is the job you have yet to learn.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 24, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

efavorite:
"The idea of anyone being accurately rated a few weeks into the school year is a sham.

Posted by: efavorite | September 24, 2009 2:03 PM"

By these standards, Mrs. Rhee would have been booted out on her bony arse during her first year in Baltimore when she was a self admitted failure.

Posted by: edlharris | September 25, 2009 12:17 AM | Report abuse

Forgive me if I'm sounding naive, but don't you DC teachers have contracts? In my old district, it would not have been possible to dismiss a teacher at this time of year, unless she committed a crime. I know you are working on new contracts, but don't the old provisions protect you in the meantime?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 25, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

highquality4kids

If you are safe in a position in which she cannot hurt you - I would start checking out different journalists to see if they would be interested in the information you have. Perhaps they have other contacts within the administration who could verify your information or provide data to back it up.

It sounds like you information people need to know. Perhaps there's a journalist who would be willing to make a story of it.

Posted by: jlp19 | September 25, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

The additional cuts come from mismanagement. How could ANYONE with common sense hire 900 additional people during a major recession while everyone around her was making conservative decisions?
Malice comes in with trying to get rid of people you never wanted to keep the 900 you think are a 'better fit.'

Posted by: southyrndiva | September 29, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

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