D.C. Schools Chief Fires 98 Workers

Largest System Dismissal in a Decade Is Part of Pledge to Improve Efficiency

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 8, 2008; Page A01

Ninety-eight D.C. school system employees were fired yesterday as part of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's effort to establish a "culture of accountability" by sweeping out unproductive and unneeded workers at the central office.

The terminations were the first mass firings in about a decade, and Rhee indicated they might not be the last.

The move came about two months after the D.C. Council gave her unprecedented authority to reclassify about 390 of the more than 700 nonunion central office workers under "at-will" status, which allowed her to fire them without cause.

Starting about 1 p.m., senior staff members called the employees into private offices one by one and handed each a letter saying that he or she will be terminated as of March 22.

One senior manager, a five-year veteran of the school system, said that Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson stepped into his office about 1 p.m. and told him he was dismissed.

She said, " 'I have some bad news -- you're being terminated,' and handed me a letter. I asked her what was the reason for the termination, and all she said was, the personnel act allows it," said the man, who asked not to be identified.

The man said he asked whether he could notify his staff but was told he could not. He said he was told to "get my personal stuff and leave," he added. "I was out of the office in 20 minutes."

The fired workers will be on paid administrative leave until March 22, the letter says. They were told to collect their belongings and were escorted out of the headquarters, at 825 North Capitol St. NE, by police officers and security guards.

Rhee's action was the first mass dismissal since superintendents Arlene Ackerman and Paul L. Vance pared the central office and maintenance workers during the budget crises of the late 1990s and early this decade.

"I have been very clear about the reason for the personnel legislation," Rhee said at the John A. Wilson Building. "This is not a one-shot deal. We wanted to create a more streamlined central office."

Asked whether there will be more cuts, she said, "You'll have to wait and see."

Mafara Hobson, Rhee's spokeswoman, said the dismissals were based partly on employee performance and on Rhee's plans to make the central office more efficient.

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