Nickles Weighs Change in Policy Allowing D.C. Social Workers to Use Own Vehicles

By Nikita Stewart and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 9, 2009

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles is weighing a change in the policy that allows social workers to drive their personal vehicles to get to residents, citing liability issues surrounding the use by city employees of private vehicles for government business.

The potential change in policy, one that would sometimes force employees to ride a bus or train to get to destinations, has drawn the attention of the national office of the American Federation of Government Employees. The office sent out a news release this week.

"It's ridiculous that employees can't even use their own cars or trucks to get to and from the worksites," Dwight Bowman, AFGE national vice president, said in a statement. "Safety is an issue and time is a factor. District employees are not able to reach their clients without risking their lives by walking through dangerous neighborhoods. If they get lost in the process of finding a site location they would be lost on foot. This is complete foolishness that clearly exposes the lack of appreciation that the District businesses have for the already overwhelmed employees."

On the city level, Johnnie Walker, president of D.C. Local 383, said Nickles appeared to back off the proposed policy change after it was publicized in the Washington City Paper.

But Walker said the union wants to make sure the proposal isn't adopted and made permanent. He said the city's new system of providing Zipcars for employees isn't working because there are not enough vehicles, and Metro doesn't cut it. "Metro doesn't connect them to their site visits throughout the metropolitan area. This is not Manhattan," Walker said.

Rhee an 'American Character'

As a strictly geographic matter, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's office at 825 North Capitol St. NE is not along Route 50, which enters the District from Maryland via New York Avenue, jogs across town to Constitution Avenue and exits to Virginia across the Roosevelt Bridge.

But she's close enough for a visit from Tom Brokaw, who featured her last week on the USA Network as part of his "American Character Along Highway 50," a series of dispatches about notables along the road that stretches from Ocean City to Sacramento.

Rhee, who got into some hot water locally last year for her broom-wielding image on the cover of Time magazine, takes the former NBC anchor into a D.C. school to schmooze with kids and tell her story. According to a USA news release posted on the TV blog "The Futon Critic," Rhee says, "I've always liked children more than I've liked adults."

The statement also said Rhee talks about how she is "transforming her district by closing down dozens of failing schools and firing hundreds of teachers; changing the way schools recruit, select and train qualified teachers in difficult-to-staff schools by fighting for six-figure salaries; and most controversially, by rewarding students with money for good behavior.

"Rhee's tireless efforts to be the voice of underserved students makes her a true American Character," USA said. "147 miles down, 2,926 to go."

On another note, Rhee, who presided over the firing of 250 teachers last month, is also continuing her attempts to build bridges with D.C. educators by bringing six of them into her office for a five-week summer fellowship.

Rhee said in a statement that the first annual Teachers Central to Leadership initiative is designed "to inform and enrich DCPS policy-making and projects with [teachers'] invaluable on-the-ground input."

The six teachers, selected from 150 applicants, will work in various divisions of senior DCPS ranks, including human capital, special education and family and public engagement. They'll receive $5,000 stipends.

The teachers: Aris Pangilinan (math), H.D. Woodson High School, a winner of the 2009 Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award presented by The Washington Post Educational Foundation; Brooke Buerkle (social studies), Columbia Heights Education Campus, named Outstanding First Year Teacher by D.C. public schools last year; Cynthia Robinson (first grade), H.D. Cooke Elementary, who serves on the board of the Capital Area National Association for Bilingual Education; Lynn Lahti-Hommeyer (elementary science resource), Bruce-Monroe Elementary at Parkview, honored at a 2006 White House ceremony with a presidential award for excellence in mathematics and science teaching; Margaret Slye (literacy professional developer), Scott Montgomery Elementary, a former Teach for America corps member; and Tondra J. Odom-Owens (fifth grade), Savoy Elementary, who co-wrote the fourth-grade learning standards in reading and language arts for D.C. public schools.

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