By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2008
After spending more than $200 million this summer to renovate and repair its buildings, the D.C. school system is having trouble filling them with teachers, listing more than 90 vacancies five weeks into the academic year.
A list generated by the system's human resources department Thursday shows 26 unfilled spots for special education instructors in addition to vacancies for math, English, science, foreign language and elementary school teachers. Teachers say it has created hardships in some schools, swelling class sizes and forcing regular instructors and substitutes to teach outside their areas of expertise.
Despite Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's promise that every school would have a music and art teacher, the list shows several openings in those areas as well. Dena Iverson, Rhee's spokeswoman, said that the document is outdated and that the chancellor's office is aware of only 42 openings.
"We expect the majority of the 42 open teaching positions to be filled within the next two weeks as we move teachers from underenrolled schools to schools that exceeded enrollment expectations," she said. Iverson also acknowledged that there are a small number of music and art openings because of late retirements and resignations. She said the positions will be filled shortly.
In a teacher corps of about 4,000 in 120 schools, the number of openings might not seem like a lot. But teachers say that even a handful of vacancies can have significant ripple effects. Teachers are pressed into classroom service instead of having free periods to work on lesson plans, and class sizes can grow.
Among the schools with the most openings are Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest, Hart Middle School in Southeast and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast.
Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker said the high number of vacancies at this point in the school year is a consequence of Rhee's decision to fire 270 teachers over the summer. About 70 were on probation, meaning they had less than two years' experience and could be terminated at any time under District rules. About 200 others were let go after failing to meet a June 30 deadline to obtain certification. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that all teachers have such a credential.
Parker said many of the probationary teachers were performing satisfactorily and had received good evaluations. The union filed a lawsuit against the District in August challenging the dismissals. Of the roughly 200 who failed to win certification, Parker said, some missed by one or two points passing the Praxis exam, a test for teachers seeking state licensure.
In July, a spokesman for Rhee said the firings were not expected to disrupt the school year because none of the teachers was expected to make the deadline and were not assigned classrooms.
"I think it is extremely unfortunate that the chancellor fired 270 teachers this summer, many of them experienced and with demonstrated success," Parker said. "The real story is that it would be better to have those teachers in the classroom."
According to a recent attendance report from Ballou High School, which is short an English teacher, there are two English classes with 41 and 38 students respectively, well over the limit of 25 for a secondary school class, as specified in the union's contract.
The documents show Wilson with five vacancies: two for special education and one each for science, social studies and health. The list has Hart with five vacancies as well: two each for math and English and one for language arts. Ludlow-Taylor has four open spots: two for special education and two for elementary teachers.
"There seems to be a double standard for accountability," Parker said. "Teachers are held accountable, but the administration is not held accountable for something as basic as getting a teacher into a classroom."