D.C. Mayor Accused of Ruse to Fire Unionized Teachers

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray angrily accused the Fenty administration Thursday of seeking to "scapegoat" the council for impending public school budget cuts announced this week and called the reductions a pretext for firing unionized teachers.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced late Wednesday that the District would be forced to lay off teachers as part of an estimated $30 million to $40 million cut in the $770 million public school budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. They said the reductions are needed to close a spending gap created when the council approved a round of cuts to the city budget July 31.

Gray (D), who has left open the possibility of an election challenge to Fenty next year, said the mayor and chancellor were attempting to deflect responsibility for cuts in a budget that the mayor signed last month without any mention of possible teacher layoffs.

"What galls me is that this is being put at the council's doorstep," Gray said. "If they want to do this, they ought to take responsibility for it."

Rhee and Fenty declined to comment. The council's cuts last spring and summer totaled $20.7 million, which included cancellation of a 2 percent adjustment for inflation ($8.1 million); fewer slots for 2010 summer school ($9.1 million); and setting aside -- with Rhee's consent -- $3.5 million after a disagreement over enrollment projections.

Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) accused Rhee of misleading parents into thinking the council did not adequately fund the school system. "We gave them more money than they ever had before, and now they are saying they are $40 million short?" Brown said. "That just doesn't go together."

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, also said that the council "didn't cut anything," but that he had "full confidence" in Rhee's management skills.

Gray and George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, questioned Rhee's decision to allow principals to hire about 900 teachers over the summer, even after widespread forecasts that the District's economy would continue to deteriorate. At the same time, about 75 veteran teachers who were let go last spring from schools where enrollment had declined or academic programs changed have yet to be placed in appropriate jobs, they said.

Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

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