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D.C. teachers go back to court

The Washington Teachers' Union has asked a D.C. a Superior Court judge to re-open its lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the teacher layoffs Chancellor Michelle Rhee ordered last October because of what she described as a budget crunch.

Union president George Parker and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said Friday that the tangle of charge and counter-charge this past week involving Rhee's claims of a $34 million surplus in the school system budget--which she intended to use to fund the new proposed teachers contract-- make it imperative that they return to court. They're seeking reinstatement of the 266 teachers who lost their jobs. Judge Judith Bartnoff rejected union claims last fall that the budget crisis was fabricated by Rhee.

The union electronically filed motions to re-open the case late Thursday evening.

Earlier that day, District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said that an extra $34 million was available, but was offset by overspending in the school system's central office bureaucracy. Rhee countered by announcing that her staff had identified another $29 million that could be used to underwrite the contract.

"We are very very troubled and concerned about the utter confusion that has existed this week," said Parker.

UPDATE 2:30 PM: At a late morning press conference outside the Moultrie Courthouse, Parker and Weingarten placed accountability for the week's confusion directly with Rhee.

"Three-card monte may be an acceptable game in some places, but it shouldn't be an acceptable principle to guide DCPS," she said. "The Chancellor talks a lot about performance. What we're seeing here is a lack of performance."

Asked if she thought Rhee's handling of the contract finances reflected incompetence, dishonesty, political naivete or indifference to appearances, Weingarten said: "I don't know what it is...You can't play this loose with the rules that we all operate under. Whatever it is, it's just plain wrong." She added that she has not spoken to Rhee this week.

"I'm really disgusted."

The union's motion to re-open the suit, filed Thursday night, is a bit behind the curve, not accounting for Gandhi's disallowal of the $34 million and that Rhee's claim that she has identified another $29 million in unspecified funds to support the labor contract.

WTU attorneys Lee Jackson and Brenda Zwack say that Rhee "conceded that there was never any shortfall in the District of Columbia Public Schools' budget for fiscal yeer 2010, and indeed, that there is now a budget suplus of $34 million...Chancellor Rhee's recent concession, that no budget shortfall ever existed, goes directly to the heart of the dispute embodied in the Plaintiff's grievance filed to challenge the alleged RIF [reduction in force]"

That's not quite what Rhee has said. She's claimed that the budget pressures on the school system at the time of the fall layoffs, as outlined for her by Gandhi's office, were real and required job reductions.

Rhee, at Shaw@Garnet-Patterson Middle School this morning to meet with staff following news of the murder of principal Brian Betts, told my colleague Michael Birnbaum of the lawsuit: "I'm assuming that the union has to do that. But we're confident of where we stand. When we did the RIF, there was a budget crisis."

In any event, Parker stopped short of saying that the new court action was also a call to reinstate the five teachers who'd been suspended for corporal punishment offenses, according to Rhee, or the educator under investigation for sexual msconduct, resulting in the pregnancy of a special needs student. He said those cases "could be reviewed" and added:

"We don't want teachers in the classroom who are harming students."

A hearing is set for April 23.

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By Washington Post editors  |  April 16, 2010; 12:57 PM ET
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Here we go again. This is like a merry-go-round of politics. What is the problem? Why so much drama? I guess I shouldn't compare apples and oranges but y oh y can we not function like the other local school districts?

Posted by: nicstew | April 16, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Other schools systems are not run by Fenty and Rhee.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | April 16, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Teachers and their real leaders must, it seems, have the same faith about employment in DCPS that they are expected to maintain about the capable bully in their class:
that sometime she will, with care, trust, and modeling, grow out of it, start being truthfull and dealing fairly with the people around her.

And they keep being scammed. Ask her if she has the money to make payroll, she says "No." Then she tells you she is holding a check she hasn't yet deposited; so, "No", she wasn't lying when she denied having money. You pay for a cab to the bank, and at the window learn there are insufficient funds in the account. You ask her if she was aware of that, and she tells you "Yes," but "you never asked that question." So you walk off the job, and she fires you. And you find yourself replaced by someone who gets paid off of a line of credit she holds. But, it's your fault, because hadn't thought to ask whether that line of credit had always been available.

And, so it goes. I lost a bundle to the contractor for a major Corcoran's auditorium who behaved in this fashion before he disappeared.


Now, the fact that she gave one principal and a nice guy at one school, everything he asked for-- and probably at your expense -- is supposed to stake and found a valid public claim that she is honest and positive.

She runs a Ponzi scheme of public trust.

Posted by: incredulous | April 17, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't think they are behind the eightball on this suit. Gandhi's letter does not change their case. The school system at the time of the RIF asserted they had a shortfall. The judge took them at their word and did not allow the WTU to examine the books to see if it was true. We now know it was not true. The fact that since then the central office has had cost over-runs that eat up the surplus does not change the legal facts that their was no deficit at the time of the RIF.

Posted by: Mulch5 | April 17, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Please. please, please, City Council, Mayor, and DCPS get a plan together for school reform that does not revolve around a single administrative personality!!!!! Why are we wasting time around arguments involving the personality of Chancellor Rhee? Let's get to the heart of the matter, which is making the schools work for ALL STUDENTS -- NOT JUST A HAND-PICKED FEW. Chancellor Rhee can go as long as we get a plan to improve the schools and someone to implement it. This could be more than one person as far as I'm concerned, so long as it gets done IMMEDIATELY!! Too many students are being ignored, especially at the high school level. They need the most intervention because they have been neglected so long!!!! Why we have schools that do not identify and address the needs of high school students, (yes they have needs too), is difficult to understand. These students are the immediate fruits of the current administration. Current administration -- get busy on producing a current crop of students that can meet the challenges of the current economic and social situation. Otherwise, plan on moving on yourselves.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | April 18, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

It seems like Chancellor Rhee may have materially misrepresented the district's financial situation that formed the basis for the initial RIF.

As an observer from a faraway district, I find the underlying willful (or just stupid) mismanagement a national disgrace.

Chancellor Rhee is a walking black eye for both Teach for American and The New Teacher Project. If she is what the so-called "reform" movement looks like, then I think the rest of the country should take a pass on it.

Posted by: cheesemonkey | April 20, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

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