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No TRO For WTU, Yet

The Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) failed today in its bid to secure a court order barring the District from formally discharging the 266 public school instructors and staff it laid off Oct. 2. But a D.C. Superior Court judge left the door open to taking action next week.

The educators have been on administrative leave, collecting salary and benefits for the last month, but are scheduled to be dropped from the city payroll this coming Monday.

WTU has sued, arguing that the action was an illegal mass firing and not, as the District contends, a budget-driven reduction in force. The union wants a permanent injunction that reinstates the teachers and returns them to the classroom while the matter goes before an arbitrator.

But an initial hearing on the suit is scheduled for Nov. 5, three days after the final ax drops on the teachers. Union attorney Lee Jackson asked D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff for a temporary restraining order (TRO) compelling the District to keep the teachers on the payroll, arguing that once the teachers are off the books, it would be far more difficult to force the District to return them to their jobs.

Bartnoff wasn't buying, however, telling Jackson that keeping the teachers on leave status would not make any material difference to District schoolchildren, who have been without their services since Oct. 2.

"If you were a student at Spingarn High School when teachers were let go on Oct. 2, the reality [now] is no different than it will be next Monday," she said during the 90-minute mid-morning hearing.

Bartnoff was also more than a bit annoyed with Jackson for the union's decision to wait until this week to file for the TRO, when it had known for a month that the teachers would receive their final discharge on Monday, and the Nov. 5 hearing date had been set without objection.

"You could have asked the court to have a hearing...prior to Nov. 5. You never did," she told told Jackson.

The District's attorney, Robert Utiger, said that the machinery of discharging the teachers from the payroll was complicated and time consuming. At this point, he said, the process was far enough along that a restraining order would make little difference. In other words, restoring the teachers to the rolls would be no more difficult after Nov. 2 than it is now.

After hearing that, Bartnoff said she would consider the TRO and the permanent injunction together at next week's hearing. But she extracted a commitment from Utiger that the District would not use the passage of the Nov. 2 deadline as an argument against restoring the teachers to the payroll if that's what she ordered.

And she added: "The District should be prepared for the possibility that the teachers be put back on the rolls."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 28, 2009; 6:46 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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I wish them luck!

Posted by: candycane1 | October 28, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

They SHOULD be reinstated along with everyone who has been illegally terminated/non-renewed/fired or whatever semantics are being used for it today. Everyone should be accountable, this is true, and incompetent people should not be allowed to hide behind jobs. However, there are rules and policies in place that have to be used in order to take action.

Posted by: southyrndiva | October 28, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

I have confidence in our legal system.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 28, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

It's good to have confidence in the legal system , but don't put much in the WTU.

Posted by: edlharris | October 28, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

So how much time, energy and money has been wasted by all sides dealing with the fallout from the RIFs? It has caused chaos and confusion as schools scramble to redo schedules or rearrange classes and job descriptions because it was done in such an abrupt and disruptive manner.

This is just one more example of how mismanaged this entire process has been.

Imagine if schools could have spent their energies focused on addressing student learning.

Imagine if Rhee and the WTU could have spent the time and resources on finishing contract negotiations.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 29, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Again...did anyone hear the question from Councilmember Alexander...when she asked Rhee when did WTU learn about the RIF and the statement was around September? Take it from me...once the union is aware of any RIF action AND unless there's a hidden agenda or promises in regards to WTU, what would have prevented them for doing an injunction back then in September. This all of sudden of "I am surprised at the action of the Chancellor" has pretty much fallen on deaf ear. It was the Chancellor who said that she shared the context of the RIF with WTU and they both agreed on it's merit. So, that 75 points (element) is the product of substance.

Also, by waiting til November 5, this substantially alleviate man-hours in regards to WTU paying their attorneys.

Case in point if you have 266 teachers and 50% or more retire on October 30th it will help WTU in the long run with the cost-savings. Collectively they are filing but individually WTU will have to decipher who was worthy and who wasn't. Remember the argument is that the RIF was a mass firing and it was illegal, so in actuality the argument was about the process and not about the product.

This is why in a good-faith effort you will have teachers who will retire, you will have some reinstated and then you have those who will be out there in la-la land until April 2010 and the vacancy charades begin and those who are eligible will teach in the counties or the public charter school system.

RIF lesson 101...a successful RIF is only known after the fact...and if the manpower and operations are no more affected than the day before the RIF as it is the same days after...then the RIF is SUCCESSFUL. The temporary hiccups comes with the product and again the product was agreed upon by the union and management, it is just the process that WTU is fighting about.

Too alleviate the stress and confusion, moreso correct the process is to NOT have the principals handle the most memorable part of a RIF and that is issuance of the letter...let it all be done by HR at headquarters. I am telling you if this was all done out of sight and out of mind...this would be nothing but hearsay.

Posted by: PowerandPride | October 30, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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