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Does contract math add up?

Although it's been less than a week since Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee rolled out their tentative contract agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union, bumps are starting to appear on the path to closing the deal. Disputed math, election-year tensions and the complexities of marrying private dollars to public budgets are all part of what's becoming a problematic mix.

Rhee said last week that the total cost of the new contract was $140 million. But at Monday's D.C. Council hearing, where Fenty spent more than three hours at the witness table in front of his September primary opponent, Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a different picture emerged. By Gray's calculations, there's not nearly enough money in Fenty's proposed FY 2011 budget to pay for what the contract promises. Gray puts the price tag for the contract at $161 million, including $100 million for retroactive and current year salary increases.

"It's an enormous amount of money. I can't find it," Gray said.

Fenty said he'd get it for him later.

Gray placed District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, city administrator Neil Albert, acting DCPS chief financial officer George Dines and Gandhi deputy Gordon McDonald under oath to ask whether there was currently money in the budget to underwrite the contract. Dines said no. Gandhi and McDonald said they didn't know. And Albert said he hadn't looked.

The other fuzzy area involves the $64.5 million in private dollars pledged by the Broad, Walton, Robertson and Arnold foundations. Before either the WTU or the council can vote on the contract, Gandhi must sign off on the pledges as fiscally sound -- meaning that the District won't be left on the hook during the life of the agreement, which runs to 2012.

Last week, word was that Gandhi's examination wouldn't take more than a few days. But on Monday Gandhi said the process would take "weeks," not days. This was not welcome news to the council, which has a budget to complete by June.

"What I see as a potential effect here is that that we don't have the information Dr. Gandhi is reviewing until after the budget process much farther down the road," said Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) "This seems to be very tricky."

Catania went so far as to say that given the current funding uncertainties, the financial package promised in the contract could only be realized with new teacher layoffs.

"I don't see how it's done with some reductions in force," he said. "That may be the answer to how do we give a raise."

Trickier still for the council is how the foundations do business. The money will not be officially in hand until the union ratifies the deal, which will only come after the green light from Gandhi. Cate Swinburn, president and executive director of the D.C. Public Education Fund, the non-profit set up by Fenty's political supporters to handle private donations for school reform, said Monday that while the award letters under review by Gandhi are "very firm," only after union ratification will they become "formal grant agreements."

Rhee is scheduled to brief the council Tuesday morning at its monthly administrative meeting.

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By Bill Turque  |  April 12, 2010; 8:54 PM ET
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Next: Rhee: 'Conspiracy theorists' have it wrong


Traditionally districts like DC hire the least qualified teachers. This is the fault of administration and has nothing to do with unions. This hurts students more than any other school factor. Teachers and other child advocates should insist that only fully qualified teachers are hired for positions that open up in the district.

A recent Harvard study showed (surprise!) that experienced teachers are more effective than teachers right out of college, so the best way to improve district schools is to hire fully credentialed and experienced teachers.

Teachers, parents, and other child advocates: Do not accept teachers with two months of summer training. The suburbs won't accept these people as teachers for their children and you shouldn't either!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 12, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Chairman/"Mayor-Elect" Gray and Bill Turque, for exposing this fraud (i.e. tentative agreement) for what it is. How could Fenty come to a budget meeting and not know how the raises for his highly touted teachers' contract would be funded? I suppose he/rhee/parker et al. would suspect teachers would be so blinded by the prospect of significant raises that we'd get lost in the details of the "fuzzy" math.

Not this time. Not ever.

Posted by: schooletal | April 12, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Gray is only doing this because he wants to run for mayor and have the teacher contract settled while he is in office so that he looks good! He is a mess. I hope all you DC voters have good sense to not put that man in charge of the city. It is already a shame that he is in charge of the City Council! I VOTE YES for the contract and there should be plenty of money in the budget. DC teachers have not gotten a raise in 3 years!! They had the salaries included in every school budget for the past three years and the money should be there to fund this contract.

Posted by: edjook8tr | April 12, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

What a farce!!!

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 12, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Do the Math...

Well, that's what happens when a public school system have an agency head who is inexperienced, lack credentials in Education, incompetent, unqualified, and a wanna be school superientendent!!

Vote "NO" for the WTU Tentative Agreement 2010. George Parker needs to GO!

Certified DCPS Educators deserve better, especially a Superintendent in 2010!!

Kudos to Chairman Gray and the City Council Members for asking the appropriate questions to Fenty and Dr. Gandhi.

Check out Adrian Fenty's budget hearing on DC Channel 32 today. It is imperative to take the time to view. It is unbelievable!!!

United We Stand!!
We Can and Will Do Better Election 2010!!!

Posted by: sheilahgill | April 12, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

"I don't see how it's done with some reductions in force," [Catania] said. "That may be the answer to how do we give a raise."

Ah - very clever - fire a bunch of teachers (who just voted for the contract) so you can give a raise to those who are left.

teachers - does this sound like a good deal?

Care to play russian roulette?

Posted by: efavorite | April 13, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

WEll when the CFO for DCPS says at this time there is no money to sustain the raises, the private donors better be good!

Posted by: candycane1 | April 13, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Teachers are right to be skeptical until they see the details and see the certification that the money is there. If the CFO certifies that the money is there, then make your decision based on the benefits/risks of the contract, not the motivations of the players involved in negotiating it.

Posted by: horacemann | April 13, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Horacemann, named after famed 19th century education reformer, continues to be a source of the type of talking points that the Chancellor’s new media consultant would devise.

Horace first showed up commenting on Turque’s March 23rd blog post announcing the funding source for the new Rhee media make-over:

"Given the intractability of the status quo mentality in the District, perhaps her approach was understandable, but, clearly the hiring of Dunn is a recognition that the "I don't care whether people understand what I'm doing" approach is changing."


“There seems to be no disagreement here at all--Ms. Rhee made a good decision to seek outside assistance to help with her communications efforts. Both those supporting her work and those opposed will now be able to craft their arguments based upon better talking points.”

Now Horace is back with an even more subtle approach:

“Teachers are right to be skeptical until they see the details and see the certification that the money is there. If the CFO certifies that the money is there, then make your decision based on the benefits/risks of the contract, not the motivations of the players involved in negotiating it.”

Still, the message is there: don’t distrust the Chancellor – take the money and run.

I wouldn’t be surprised if horaceman intersperses his subtle pro-Rhee messages with comments that are critical, or at least questioning of Rhee. Please consider that this may be a way to appear to shed his original reformer/media manager image and to draw readers to his superficially well-reasoned, moderate comments.

Horacemann – If I’ve got you wrong – please forgive me. These are trying times. Some of us have come to distrust Chancellor Rhee so much that even perfectly reasonable people like me can develop a mild paranoid streak. However, the normal side of paranoia is vigilance - and it always helps to be vigilant.

Posted by: efavorite | April 13, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

It amazes me at how little faith the anti-contract teachers have in their ability to teach effectively and maintain a job. No amount of money will entice them to budget the slightest on job protections.

It's clear that they realize they have no skills and are lucky to be making whatever amount of money they are now.

Most people who do a good job want to be rewarded for it and have enough faith in their abilities to not worry about being fired. These anti-contract people know they are replaceable and maybe otherwise unhirable elsewhere and just want to hang on to what they have.

Posted by: makplan20002 | April 13, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse


I guess you can call a paranoid streak "mild" in the same sense as a "mild earthquake."

When "vigilance" turns reasonable and balanced commentary like horacemann's into the destabilizing poison of an agent provocateur, then the seismograph is swinging.

Posted by: gardyloo | April 13, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I'm a teacher and in the past have been a union supporter (clarification: when it's a functional union, I support it). Like Makplan20002, I'm surprised by how teaching defies, denies and refuses to abide by market forces that govern other fields.

If you're good -- heck, even if you're not good but are willing to improve -- there will always be a place for you in education. But if you're not good and not willing to do anything about it, then by all means you should be shown the door.

I'm good and I'm confident in my abilities -- Impact does not scare me -- and I'm very tired of working next to people who consistently perform at unacceptable levels yet feel entitled to contract-provided job continue performing at unacceptable levels.

This new contract? Bring it on.

(And efavorite, go ahead and attack me. You know you want to.)

Posted by: kelly5612 | April 13, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

efgardyloo: please do not exercise excessive paranoia. You should have faith in your abilities as a teacher; one can tell you have no problem w your Impact score. You should be as confident as kelly5612. Candicane1--just love "they better be good," you say, referring to the generous outside donors' funding. Rather than kick Rhee, who got them lined up, you should be thanking her profusely because without her, there would be no increase. Given the abuse the donors get, they have extraordinarily sincere patriotism and desire to improve our society. They don't owe the District any particular thing, and we all should be a little embarrassed that with all the pay and pension already heaped on the teachers' palms, the District still needs to beg.

Posted by: axolotl | April 13, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Kelly5612 also turned up for the first time on Turque's 3/23 blog, saying this:

“Mr. Turque, Does anyone else comment on this blog? The anti-Rhee crowd's chorus is becoming tired, old and stale.”

Then this: “Efavorite, don't you have a job? Or is this it??

Perhaps horacemann and Kelly5612 are good cop/bad cop.

Posted by: efavorite | April 13, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

The real question about kelly5612, is he/she getting any of the $100,000 , which is meant for increasing student performance, but is being used by Miss Rhee to promote the contract.

Posted by: edlharris | April 13, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I don't know, efav., run it through the Crays up at Ft. Meade, and maybe you will find consistency in writing style and thought. Speaking of pairings, you and gardyloo seem to show up at nearly the same time, and your writing and views are rather similar. Separated at birth, maybe?

Posted by: axolotl | April 13, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

No, Ed, I'm not Anita Dunn, if that's who you're referring to, and if it is, Turque already reported on 3/22 that the contract with Dunn's firm is privately funded. So I'm not sure what you mean, since the money was never "meant for increasing student performance."

Posted by: kelly5612 | April 13, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Yes, mamoore1, a farce indeed. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. There should be accountability for budget “experts” who claim to have no knowledge of the budget. The truth will out, as it always does. At best, money will be available until 2012, and then what?

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | April 13, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Well it seems that everyone is holding a gun to somebody else’s head. Now, who is willing to pull the trigger first?

One only has to look over the last four years of this administration’s record to see how they treat those individuals who have faith in their abilities. This admin does not care about abilities…just look at Chancellor Rhee. She’s called Chancellor because she lacked the skill for achieving the status of superintendent.

This admin thrives on attacking the weak and those who speak out against them and the only real reason that they received pass from Washpo et al is b/c they are pushing a national agenda that other school districts want to piggyback on. The contract just smells fishy. I ask again why would a former Enron exe and the Walton family be interested in DCPS? What strings are attached?

Again, as I said in a previous post, my father always says Freedom isn’t free.

I’m not a teacher, but I thought that Mr. Cuban’s assessment on why this contract was already doomed was a good one.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | April 13, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Well Rhee lied AGAIN!!!!!! This just in "Surplus Revelation Threatens to Blow Up Teacher Contract Deal"

Posted by: thelildiva4u | April 13, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I had channel 13 on all day waiting. If this meeting cannot be televised, at least televise Rhee in handcuffs. She deserves to be locked up!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | April 13, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

You don't get around much.
Read here to see that the $100,000 is being funneled thru the DC Education Fund

Then go to the DC Education Fund website ( and see this:
"DC Public Education Fund’s mission is to dramatically improve student achievement in the District of Columbia by serving as a strategic partner to businesses, foundations, community leaders, and individual donors in supporting and investing in high impact programs with the District of Cloumbia Public Schools."

Think of a geometric proof:
If A =B and B=C,
then A=C

Now, you know.

Posted by: edlharris | April 13, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I should amend my comment to
"You forget."

You commented on that Turque blogue(sp) item.

Posted by: edlharris | April 13, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse


From the most basic math required to provide a professional standard of care for the futures of our children and the teachers who must care for them; to the sudden, extreme and incredulous increase of DC/CAS scores relative to NAEP test scores that have remained static during her reign; these are some of the issues that the U.S. Department of Education questioned when placing our DCPS last among finalists for the "Race to the Top" prize.

Whether the Chancellor is incompetent, pathological, a liar, or any combination of the above... she has proved to be an embarrassment to this great city and to those who have supported well-reasoned school reform policies. She has hurt too many innocent people in her arrogant and ignorant pursuit of greatness, and she has unnecessarily created divisions between local communities, races, and even between young and old. And the Chancellor has accused those who challenge her quixotic path towards reform as putting “adult interests ahead our children’s future”.

I have this message for those who are still willing to defend this champion of our children's future; YOU ARE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY.

The Chancellor has made the case that test scores, budget responsibility, and personal accountability are the Holy Trinity of education reform policy. But her tortured design of statistical analysis and fuzzy math that supported past decisions are now in direct conflict with those that she believes is now required to advance her agenda.

In this latest example, when it was convenient for DCPS to be in budget deficit, she fired teachers. Six months later she endorses teacher performance bonuses and we learn of hidden treasures that she had a clear responsibility to disclose. By her own admission, she knew of the “budget miscalculation” in January, but made a conscious decision to keep this information from the public and the elected members responsible for DCPS oversight until now. The fact that the proposed teacher contract agreement makes any future raises contingent on the money being available would make anyone suspicious. But now we understand that the Chancellor is willing to conceal funds from the City Council until it is practical.

When faced with the consequences of her failures, the Chancellor’s constant refrain has been that someone else made a mistake, or that predictable events were not predictable, or that undesirable data is inconclusive. In short, our Chancellor has been the very antithesis of accountability.

By her own standards, the Chancellor would have fired herself long ago. But she is buoyed by those who believe that maintaining positive school reform efforts and future progress will be best served by accepting her brand of bad tasting medicine, no matter how toxic. We need to be willing to say publicly that the Chancellor has no clothes, because her mirror is surely broken.

Posted by: AGAAIA | April 14, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

@AGAAIA: That was a great post! Kudos to you.

Posted by: candycane1 | April 14, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

AGAAIA - this is a masterpiece - please work on getting it wider circulation.

Posted by: efavorite | April 14, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

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