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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