WTU drills dry hole in layoffs suit
The Washington Teachers' Union's court challenge to the October 2009 layoffs effectively ended this morning when a WTU attorney told a D.C. Superior Court judge that after scrutinizing 1,200 pages of District documents, the union could find no evidence that Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee contrived the budget crunch that she said justified the job reductions.
"We didn't find anything that would warrant further briefing," attorney Brenda C. Zwack told Judge Judith Bartnoff, legalese for acknowledging that there was no smoking gun to keep the case alive.
The union appeared to have hit a dead end last November, when Bartnoff denied its bid for a preliminary injunction barring the District from sacking the 266 educators. She said WTU had failed to prove the heart of its case: that Rhee's hiring of more than 900 new teachers in the spring and summer of 2009 left a glut of new instructors, allowing her to create a sham financial crisis that fall. The phony budget squeeze enabled Rhee to target older teachers, the union charged.
The legal ground shifted in April, when Rhee stunned the D.C. Council by announcing the discovery of a $34 million surplus in the DCPS budget. That sum was quickly declared a fiction by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. But questions raised by the fiscal confusion were enough for Bartnoff to grant the WTU "limited discovery" to investigate what financial information was available to Rhee at the time of the layoffs.
A handful of the 266 dismissed teachers filed into the courtroom while the brief hearing (barely 10 minutes) was underway.
"All these people are here and we're going to send them home," Bartnoff said. She did not formally dismiss the case this morning, but is expected to do so by early next year.
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