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Posted at 08:50 AM ET, 11/14/2008

Taking a Pass on Impasse?

Did Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee pull their punches against the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) last month when they rolled out Plan B?

Plan B, so named by Rhee, is designed to accomplish administratively what she has found impossible to achieve so far at the bargaining table: to get rid of teachers she regards as ineffective. Unveiled at an Oct. 2 news conference, the plan includes a new evaluation system, aggressive use of a five-month remedial program that could result in dismissal for instructors who don't improve, and minimizing the importance of seniority in downsizing decisions.

But draft talking points and a news release, circulated by e-mail on Oct. 1 between Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson and press aides Dena Iverson and Mafara Hobson, mention another measure that was missing in the final announcement. It said the Fenty Administration "has decided to declare an impasse in the negotiations within the coming days."

Under the D.C. Code, an impasse would land the contract in the hands of Julio Castillo, executive director of the District's Public Employees Relations Board, which attempts to resolve labor-management disputes in D.C. government. If, after an investigation, Castillo considers the impasse to be legitimate, he refers the matter to a mediator, usually at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. If that doesn't work, Castillo arranges for binding arbitration.

The mention of impasse in the talking points was no accident. "MR has signed off completely," Henderson said in her message to press aides Hobson and Iverson. "Do what you do to turn it into a press release. She wants to see the release before it goes out."

What happened between talking points and press conference isn't clear. Rhee declined to comment Wednesday night. One knowledgeable union source theorizes that Rhee intended the reference to impasse only as a threat in an attempt to bring the union to heel and adopt her pay package.

Someone--Rhee, Fenty, maybe acting attorney general Peter J. Nickles--thought better of it at the last minute, perhaps concluding that it would be wiser to keep trying for a deal than turning it all over to a third party.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  08:50 AM ET, 11/14/2008

Categories:  Education

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