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Correction to This Article
This article which appeared on Page One in some Aug. 29 editions and in the Metro section in others incorrectly described the employment status of Allen Chin, athletic director for D.C. public schools. He still works for the system, though top school officials have said they intend to remove him.

Rhee Seeks Authority to Terminate Employees

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants to downsize the central command by as much as 30 to 40 percent.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants to downsize the central command by as much as 30 to 40 percent. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is preparing plans to fire up to several hundred employees over the coming year, part of a major restructuring of the school system's central office aimed at streamlining operations, District government sources said.

As the initial piece of her strategy, Rhee has begun drafting legislation that would ask the D.C. Council to suspend personnel laws so that the chancellor would have the authority to terminate employees without having to reassign them to other jobs. Rhee also has been meeting with council members to lay the groundwork for their political support, members said.

The chancellor's actions are aimed at taking on the intractable central bureaucracy of the 50,000-student system, blamed for scuttling generations of reforms, said council members who have met with Rhee. During her informal chats with parents, community meetings and a two-day teacher training event last week, Rhee has vowed to create a central administration that is more receptive and responsive when dealing with parents, teachers and principals.

In past years, for example, the central office has allowed thousands of school facility work orders to languish, failed to deliver paychecks to teachers on time and had trouble supplying principals with supplies and equipment.

Rhee is exploring whether she has the legal authority to fire employees without council action. But she is aiming, if necessary, to present a formal legislative proposal to the council by the time members return from summer recess Sept. 15, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are being formulated. Rhee is said to have the full backing of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who fired Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and replaced him with Rhee in June.

Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) said Rhee explained during a recent meeting with him that she wants to bring in new upper-level managers and downsize the central administration by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

The central office, as defined by Rhee and her deputies, has 700 to 900 employees, although the exact number has been difficult for the chancellor to pin down, the government sources said.

"It's not rocket science to know the central office is disorganized. Everyone knows that," Brown said. "The question is, to what extent is it disorganized, and what is the solution? Clearly, I need to see more specifics."

Another council member who has met with Rhee declined to speak for attribution because the conversation was private. But this person called the potential firings a "TNT issue" that could be met with skepticism by members whose constituents would stand to lose their jobs.

"I don't know what the [council's] mood would be," the member said.

Furthermore, the Council of School Officers, the union that represents some central office employees, could choose to fight any council action to hand the chancellor more authority to fire employees. Bernard C. Lucas Sr., president of the union, did not return a call for comment yesterday.

Typically, central office employees who are removed from a position have the contractual right to be placed in a lower-ranking position in the system while maintaining their salary. These rights have hampered superintendents who have sought in the past to downsize the school administration and remove poorly performing employees.


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