Rhee Hesitates on Requests for List of Fired Workers

By Nikita Stewart and V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has not turned over to the D.C. Council a list of the 98 employees she fired Friday despite repeated requests for the information.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he was drafting a formal request last night after a meeting with Rhee and e-mails and phone calls between their respective chiefs of staff did not get results.

Instead, Lisa Ruda, Rhee's chief of staff, told his office that his request was referred to Interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles.

"In my opinion, we haven't asked for anything that can't be shared," Gray said. "It seems to me that given the council accorded the authority in the first place . . . there ought to be a desire to keep the communication lines open."

In January, the council approved legislation in a 10 to 3 vote that gave Rhee the authority to terminate 390 employees "at will," or without cause. Some council members said they expected to be told about the timing of the terminations, but the council was not notified about the firings.

The lack of communication has exacerbated tension between Gray and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration over failing to inform the council on major issues.

Fenty (D) did not respond to a request for comment. Spokeswoman Carrie Brooks responded with a statement from Brender L. Gregory, director of the Department of Human Resources: "At the request of the City Administrator, I am currently determining the best way to disseminate information to the Council while at the same time protecting the privacy and dignity of those employees who were separated from employment with DCPS."

Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson said yesterday that some of the fired employees might be replaced. Asked whether the administration would be able to function properly without the 98 people, she said, "In some cases, yes." But in other cases, "we'll have to rehire."

According to several of the fired employees, the terminations touched many departments, including food service, business operations, budget and communications. The information technology department lost 40 to 55 employees.

Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for Rhee, said the Office of the Chief Technology Officer will absorb the responsibilities of the central office's main information technology department. The office began overseeing the department last year after Fenty took over the schools and the school system became a city agency.

In the early part of this decade, then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman laid off the entire human resources department, citing poor performance, said Mary Levy, director of the Public Education Reform Project for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. But Ackerman ended up hiring back many of the workers, Levy said.

A few years later, then-superintendent Paul L. Vance abolished 600 central office jobs, rewrote the job descriptions and forced workers to reapply. Many were replaced, Levy said.

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