Rhee to court: No "surplus" during layoffs
In newly filed court documents, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says she was not aware of the now-discredited $34 million surplus in the DCPS budget last fall when she laid off 266 teachers. Rhee said her first inkling of the extra cash came from the school system's interim chief financial officer on Feb. 26.
"I had no knowledge of this surplus when I authorized a reduction in force of DCPS personnel in September 2009," Rhee said in a two-page declaration made under penalty of perjury. The layoffs were formally executed on Oct. 2.
Rhee triggered a political furor on April 13 when she told the D.C. Council that she'd located an extra $34 million to help pay for teacher raises, just a few months after paring educators from the payroll because of what she said was a budget crunch. Two days later, District CFO Natwar M. Gandhi said $30 million of the surplus didn't exist because of projected overspending in the central office operation.
Rhee's declaration is one of several filings in advance Friday's D.C. Superior Court hearing on the Washington Teachers' Union lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the layoffs. The union has argued that the layoffs were a sham designed to terminate older teachers Rhee wanted out of the system. In November, Judge Judith Bartnoff denied the union's bid for a preliminary injunction restoring the teachers to their jobs. The District has moved to have the case dismissed. But the union is asking Bartnoff to re-open the record in the suit in light of last week's revelations, and allow it to subpoena witnesses and documents to examine questions regarding the 2010 school budget.
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, in filings accompanying Rhee's declaration, said the union has offered only "26 pages of inadmissible hearsay," including newspaper clippings and blog posts.
"The fact that months after the RIF at issue was conducted, there was some indication that the information on the budget available to the Chancellor in August of 2009 might not have been accurate is of no legal significance," Nickles said.
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