District Notebook: School Cuts Appear to Be Well Underway

By Bill Turque and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 24, 2009

When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced in front of D.C. school headquarters Sept. 16 that the District will lay off teachers as part of up to $40 million in budget reductions, they said the public would have a voice in deciding where and how to cut.

"Principals will spend the remainder of the month working with instructional superintendents and their school communities to determine the budget adjustments that best meet their needs," Rhee said in her formal statement.

It would appear, however, that the process is more than well underway. On Friday, two days after the Fenty-Rhee announcement, Director of School Operations Jesus Aguirre told principals in a memo that they had until 10 a.m. Saturday to hand in their budget reduction worksheets identifying the positions they planned to eliminate to meet financial targets.

The expectation was that principals would consult Local School Restructuring Teams, advisory bodies of parents, teachers and administrators that offer input on budget issues. Perhaps some teams were consulted, but if they were, it was on the fly.

"Train has left," one veteran principal e-mailed Monday. "Cursory attention paid to school communities. There really wasn't time."

Starting Monday, principals began trekking to a sixth-floor conference room in the human resources department to discuss their choices with senior administrators. If, for example, a principal thinks the school can get by with one fewer math teacher, he or she must "rate and provide a supporting narrative" for every math educator in that job classification. The rating and writing are to be done in the conference room.

The rating criteria are heavily weighted toward "office or school needs," which count for 75 percent of the 1-to-10 score. That includes just about everything Rhee preaches, such as commitment to student achievement, positive classroom environments and using data to make decisions about instruction. Ten percent will come from contributions to the school community, such as after-school tutoring, or an exceptional prior-year performance. Using special skills or life experiences to enrich student life count for another 10.

Human resources calculates the final 5 percent: length of service, veterans preference and past outstanding performance ratings.

Before the end of the month, the District will deliver termination notices to principals, who must hand them out the next day after school. If they think the news might be met with hard feelings, or worse, principals should be in touch with Aguirre.

"Please feel free to contact the Director of School Operations if there are unique security issues that you believe need to be addressed," he wrote.

Activists Target Gray

Ronald Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics, and nearly a dozen other community activists staked out the office of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) on Sept. 16 demanding to meet with him regarding recent budget cuts.

The protest followed a series of events at the John A. Wilson Building that day at which activists spoke out against the D.C. Council's decision to eliminate funding for most earmarks to help balance the budget.

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