Unions Launch Ad To Fight School Plan

By Nikita Stewart and Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 6, 2007

The unions representing employees of D.C. Public Schools will launch a $20,000 radio advertising campaign today against legislation that would give schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee the authority to fire nonunion workers in the central office.

The 60-second spot is called "Hijacked" and uses the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" as background music. It will air an average of 13 times each day starting today through Tuesday, when the D.C. Council is set to vote on the Public Education Personnel Reform Amendment Act of 2007, said Dwight Kirk, a spokesman for the unions.

Additionally, teachers, parents and others are planning to rally at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow in front of the John A. Wilson Building to protest the approach to school reform that Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) are taking.

Kirk said the unions are hoping to tap public sympathy in the wake of Rhee's announcement that she plans to close 23 schools, an action that is drawing the ire of parents, council members and community leaders who say their voices were not heard when Rhee, with Fenty's backing, made her list.

The personnel bill would reclassify employees as "at will," meaning they could be terminated without cause. Although earlier numbers from school officials showed that 754 nonunion employees could be reclassified, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said in his fiscal impact statement that "DCPS estimates that 100 to 150 . . . would be impacted by this legislation."

Union officials say they fear that the potential firings in the central office could filter down to teachers and school staff.

"Have you heard? Reform of D.C. public schools has been hijacked. Mayor Fenty and his posse of consultants and contractors have hijacked the reform process," a female narrator says in the ad.

It goes on to say that Rhee and Fenty have not taken into account any public input and that they want to fire frontline employees without cause.

"The nerve! It's not fair, and it's not what voters trusted Mr. Fenty to do. He has disrespected teachers, parents and the city council. Now Mr. Fenty has turned a deaf ear to concerned folks like you and me," it continues.

Fenty responded to the unions' upcoming media blitz with a statement: "The legislation proposed by Chancellor Rhee is carefully and specifically designed to allow her and her team to reform the schools as quickly as possible."

The union ad encourages listeners to lobby the council to vote for an "alternative package." That proposal, given to the council yesterday, would convert only school system managers to at-will status, an arrangement that exists in other city agencies, said Nathan A. Saunders, vice president of the Washington Teachers' Union.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company