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Rhee Challenges Council's Math

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee continues trying to flesh out her side of the DCPS budget shortfall/layoffs imbroglio.

On "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" this afternoon, she challenged D.C. Council President Vincent C. Gray's contention that DCPS has more money this year to spend on fewer students. Gray says the $43.9 million budget gap that triggered the layoffs of 388 school employees--including 229 classroom teachers--was no gap at all, and that federal stimulus dollars should have been enough to cushion any shortfall.

Rhee said that while it is true the school system has more money overall this year ($780 million) over last ($764 million), local school funding--the amount of money derived from District revenues--dropped from $562 million to $550 million.

"The council is saying, 'We didn't cut the budget, that's just not the case....I think everyone can do the math and know there is a decrease."

She said about $40 million in federal stimulus funds were used to bolster this year's $550 million local budget, and that had it not been available, this fall's cuts would have been much deeper. The rest of DCPS' money was comprised of federal funds legally earmarked for specific uses, such as special education.

"The bottom line reality is that we are facing a major budget problem," Rhee said.

She also offered a bit more data, (carefully couched) to deflect union contentions (so far undocumented) in its lawsuit, that she targeted veteran teachers for dismissal:

Six percent of "the entire group of people who were separated from the District" were teachers with more than 25 years of service.

Seventeen percent "of the separated teachers" were brand new.

"About forty percent" of the teachers let go "are in their first five years."

"More than half" had ten years or less experience.

Of the union charges, Rhee said, "I think that's absolutely false. I think that it is irresponsible, quite frankly, for the union leadership to be making accusations they have no data to support."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 8, 2009; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Why am I not surprised that this women would be speaking into someones mic or TV camera today. Yes, "she's got a lot of explaining to do", especially since there are a lot of angry folks expected out on Freedom Plaza today. However, how much of her time is devoted to the business of the school day. No other top school official spent the school day being interviewed during school hours. So, does this mean we are paying for her driver to take her all over the city to places other than the schools?

If 229 teachers are missing from the classrooms, what percentage of the day is Ms. Rhee devoting to assisting her principals make the necessary adjusments.

Stop lying and get to work Michelle! What is going on with academic reform? We have had enough of teacher reform, now what spectacular thing is happening with improving classroom academics, curriculum, testing etc, etc.?

Posted by: shank2sb | October 8, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

OK, I have done the math, using Rhee's numbers, she said that DCPS received a 12M cut in local funds (down from 562M to 550M). OK, then she admits receiving, at the same time, 40M in federal stimulus funds. That puts her budget for FY10 at 590M.

She just proved Gray was correct. She did not receive a tangible cut in her budget, but, rather, received a sizable increase.

She presumes that we are ill-informed constituents who don't do our homework when she suggests that the stimulus dollars she received were earmarked for specific purpose and not to save jobs. That is 1/2 of a 1/2 truth.

Truth is the stimulus money that came to DCPS came through several different streams, the most flexible one, known as State Fiscal Stabilization, was to be used to fill holes left by budget deficits. That is what the Council rightly used it for. Thus, with it, she had NO deficit.

It was only the remaining balance that came with specific earmark requirements.

The deficit was created when Rhee, understanding the fiscal crisis the District was in, went out and hired 900 new teachers that her budget couldn't support. She created her OWN deficit. She made a grossly incompetent fiscal decision and is now making a feeble attempt to lay blame at the feet of the Council.

Sorry Chancellor Rhee, some of us were not taught the test and were instead instructed on deductive reasoning and critical thinking.

Your fuzzy math just doesn't add up. Perhaps you should put on a uniform and sit in on a math class of one of your "veteran" teachers.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 8, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the math is incorrect. The monies (550M - local funds) are part of the ongoing revenue stream that a district counts on to take care of business. The stimulus monies are one time monies - therefore making it unwise to use them for ongoing costs. And with all things bureaucratic there are strings tied with how those monies can be spent.

I do agree that it was a poor decision to hire teachers without seeing how enrollment plays out. It is always easier to add teachers then go through the painful process of RIF. No one is winning in this. It is a mess - but it is time to focus on the improvement of instruction so that kids are learning and performing.

DC kids deserve it.

Posted by: watchingthefray | October 8, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

So now Rhee is saying that some of the extra money was earmarked for special education. I find that hard to believe since a good number of the positions RIFed were special ed teachers and even before the RIFs she cut aides. There is also a severe shortage of speech pathologists, psychologists and social workers.

So where is the special ed money going? Turque please investigate.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 8, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

I think it is a shame that Chairman Gray is using this issue to bolster his mayoral ambitions. The council cut the school's budget and Michelle Rhee made the cuts necessary to stay within that budget. These teachers are not the only people who have lost their jobs due to this economic downturn. A lot of good people throughout the country are out of work because of layoffs and business closings. It's sad.

I am tired of the whining of the teachers unions. Where is the outrage that for decades our school system has been criminal in its neglect of this city's children. Where are the rallies decrying the sorry state of our schools. It's okay to have some of the highest drop out rates in the nation, some of the poorest test scores in the nation, some of the most unprepared graduates in the nation. But god forbid we do anything to change the status quo for the teachers union or other entrenched interests who have choked the schools for decades. Shame on those politicians who pander to these folks for their own gain.

Thank you Ms. Rhee for taking these folks on.

Posted by: dcpsparent | October 8, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

She's pretty gutsy attempting to say the council's math is off. It's apparent to all that they had more money overall, regardless of where it came from (locally or federally). As a matter of fact, one of the intentions of the stimulus was to help sustain employment for the time being through the tough current national economy. As the economy picks up in the future, it will allow organizations to sustain their employees themselves.

On the other hand, as much as I don't like RIFs, if Rhee used this 'opportunity' to let go of under-performing teachers and counselors for the sake of our kids, I have to support her. On the same note, if she hired 900 better qualified teachers and counselors who will be better role-models and provide our children a better future, I have to support her.

Overall, I don't like her math and don't like the fact that she's using numbers as an excuse. If she is reforming the schools for the right reasons (i.e. to provide better educators for the future of our kids), I fully support that, but please be honest and up front, don't give us excuses of budget that are not true.

Posted by: acharan786 | October 8, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

dcps parent - Gray was not "using this issue to bolster his mayoral ambitions." He was defending his integrity against Rhee's claims that the city council was the cause of the budget deficit.

No one wants the "status quo" in education That's a straw man argument that I'm sick of hearing. Finding real solutions will be hard - much harder than firing teachers, which is all Rhee knows how to do.

Posted by: efavorite | October 8, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

"On the other hand, as much as I don't like RIFs, if Rhee used this 'opportunity' to let go of under-performing teachers and counselors for the sake of our kids, I have to support her."

How do you know that it was under-performing teachers and counselors that were let go? I heard some of them were pretty good at their job.

"On the same note, if she hired 900 better qualified teachers and counselors who will be better role-models and provide our children a better future, I have to support her."

How do you know if the 900 people hired were better qualified teachers and counselors and better role models? How do you judge who is better qualified and who is a better role model? Do you have any type of information that would lead to that conclusion that you can share with us?

Posted by: jlp19 | October 9, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

She's trying real hard to do damage control. I don't know how you do that when the objective has been to damage and destroy. I went to the rally last night and had the pleasure of seeing so many people that I know and heard some of the most horrific stories ever.

At Ballou, three science teachers were RIF'd. Everybody's got real stupid math. If each of those teachers had 5 classes at approximately 25 students each, in total, that's 375 students that either have to be absorbed into other science classes(impossible ) or have no science on their schedules, this semester or for the year and that's required for graduation. Now that was just one of the horror stories but my point is, look at the backlash and the negative impact that has on the children. The teachers get the boot and the children get thrown under the bus. I'm sorry, this "new army of believers" as Rhee dubbed them, coming from New Leaders, New Schools, must have received a pass for boot camp. This is going to be a crazy year and it's only October. My prayers go out to everybody who has to find the strength to just get through the day. God bless you.

Did any of you hear the student from McKinley speak? Congratulations to his parents and his teachers. He was outstanding.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 9, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

The hiring of 900 and firing, so soon, of nearly 400 only seems plausible if your intent was to further remove problem teachers at any cost. It doesn't make any difference that 17% were brand new (casualties for a "good cause"?), as removing even a hundred--from a workforce of ~3800--might be a significant accomplishment in her plan. Not only would these teachers be gone, but you would further enlarge the fear factor....I hesitate to write anything about the "stimulus fund restrictions" because I think this detracts from the hiring/firing as a reduction trick. But it has to be pointed out that the Chancellor has not been explicit about the restrictions problem. The general information on the web (from various sources concerned with this issue--outside of DC allocation problems) point to the contradiction: the stimulus fund (including education funds) were put there to save jobs in the next year or two. But the hope was also, in part, to target short-term education improvement expenses, and not create an unrealistic dependency. Whatever the "best intention" of these funds, given the economic climate and this being the nation's capitol, it seems a savvy planner could have streamed the fund through the system in a way to meet the payroll of all these employees. Again, though, this distracts from the more serious problem: hiring 900 and firing 400 a few months later. One could cynically suggest: the hire/quick fire worked on principals and now a new, expanded version has been created for the teachers.

Posted by: wavew1 | October 9, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Okay let’s try this…. Mind you, I am no math major/”chancellor” so please forgive my mistakes. Now Rhee says there was a 43.9 MILLION GAP due to council cuts right? THEN she says she got an increase from last years budget.

780 mil= THIS YR
-764 mil= LAST YR

Then she says that increase number doesn’t matter because the part that was from DC revenues dropped and THAT’S what REALLY matters. Okay let’s try this… remember I’m no math major/”chancellor” so I may be wrong but here goes….

562 mil =LAST YR
-550 mil =THIS YR
=12 mil =DECREASE

Then she says she got 40 mil in stimulus money to “bolster" the 550 mil. Let’s see that’s:

550 mil = DC Rev
+40 mil = Stimulus
=590 mil = Total dollars

None of this is explaining a 43.9 MILLION budget gap. So she’s either complaining about a 12mil decrease and she is not able to USE the stimulus money (and has to return it)… or she got a 16 mil INCREASE and she’s not sure how to spend it… OR she’s telling lies! What the heck is she talking about? No wonder they (Fenty et al)don’t want her answering questions. She sounds like a fool.

Posted by: my2centsis | October 13, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

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