Council speaks, but Rhee has spoken
The D.C. Council took a stand Tuesday on two D.C. public schools personnel issues over which it admittedly has zero power: the reinstatement of the 266 teachers laid off in October and the retention of Hardy Middle School principal Patrick Pope.
As originally introduced by Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) two weeks ago, the reinstatement measure said that if CFO Natwar M.Gandhi found the money, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee would have to re-hire the educators, who she pared from the payroll for what she described as budgetary reasons. The council's own general counsel said the bill reached beyond the panel's powers under the law. The version approved Tuesday merely asks Rhee to study the feasibility of reinstating the teachers, pending Gandhi's okay.
Rhee made it clear Friday that while principals have been directed to interview laid off teachers as vacancies come up, it was up to them whether to re-hire.
Her colloquy on Friday with Thomas, one of her main council antagonists, drew laughter, a rare commodity at school oversight hearings. As Rhee described the responsibilities of principals, Thomas interrupted to remind her that his mother, Romaine Thomas, had been one at Ketcham Elementary and that he understood quite well what they did, thank you very much.
"I had lunch with your mother yesterday," Rhee said with a slightly mischievous smile, referring to her appearance at a luncheon of the Smith College Club of Washington.
"She actually said to me after the speech I gave, 'You're doing a great job.'"
"Maybe you misunderstood her," Thomas said grumpily. "We've had many discussions about education I'm sure you wouldn't want me to put on the record today."
The measure passed Tuesday with only Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) dissenting, he said, because he didn't want to leave the impression that he council was "creeping" toward interference in personnel matters.
The Hardy resolution, introduced by chairman and mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray said the Georgetown middle school, which draws a majority African American enrollment from across the District, has been "a beacon for parents in this city." Under Pope's leadership it had become "a model learning environment in the District of Columbia Public School system," as evidenced by test scores and yearly progress under No Child Left Behind.
Rhee announced late last year that Pope would be reassigned in June to plan the opening of a new arts magnet middle school in fall 2011. The move came as she was also trying to market the school more effectively to neighborhood parents, some of whom had been put off by Pope's no nonsense style, and the application process required for admission.
Pope's impending departure has drawn bitter protests from some parents and students, who see it as a retreat from Hardy's diversity, which "should be a benchmark" for city schools according to the resoluton. It calls for Pope to remain.
Rhee was firm with Gray when he asked her Friday why she wanted to pull a principal who'd enjoyed such success.
"I am not going to be able to give you any different answer than I have the last five times I have told you sir," Rhee said to Gray. "I know you don't agree with me and I respect our difference of opinion. But I don't have a different answer."
The resolution passed on a voice vote, with Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) voting no.
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