Ann Gardenhour, who has been a teacher in the District's preschool recreation program for 19 years, will lose her job March 12 because she does not live in Washington.
"I'm angry and bitter," she said during the lunch period at Hillcrest Recreation Center where she takes care of 13 children, aged 2 and 3. "Angry and bitter that you can give 19 years to a program and do your very best and then someone can come and tell you that if you don't become a District resident you'll lose your job."
The City Council passed a law in 1981 requiring that city jobs be held by city residents. It made an exception for those who lived outside the District and already were on the payroll, but this "grandfather clause" did not apply to workers like Gardenhour who are employed on a per diem, seasonal basis.
There are 25 centers in the D.C. Department of Recreation's Cooperative Play Program, which provides free half-day sessions for preschoolers from September to May. Each center has one teacher like Gardenhour. Only one other teacher lives outside the District.
Like other teachers in the program, Gardenhour is paid $3.35 an hour, the minimum wage, said Department of Recreation spokesman Larry Brown. The nursery school workers are terminated every spring and reappointed in September. Brown said they receive no benefits except sick leave and annual leave.
Despite this part-time status, Gardenhour said, she was told she would not lose her job. But Brown said she was simply given a grace period to move into the city. Gardenhour does not intend to move.
"My husband teaches in Prince George's County, and why should I become a D.C. resident and buy a $150,000 house for a $5,000-a-year job?" she said.
Gardenhour, who grew up in the Hillcrest neighborhood where Mayor Marion Barry now lives, graduated from Beers Elementary School, Kramer Junior High School and Anacostia High School. She still lived in Hillcrest when she started working as a preschool leader.
"I had a child of my own in the program and when the teacher got pregnant, I took over," Gardenhour said. The D.C. government sent her to the University of Maryland for courses in education. When Gardenhour and her family moved to Cheverly, Md., 17 years ago, she continued to teach.
Brown said a District resident will replace Gardenhour, but some parents whose children are enrolled at Hillcrest fear that no one can really take her place.
"It will be almost impossible to find someone as well qualified," said Toni Alfred as she arrived at the center to pick up her son, Wesley. "Ann is so sensitive to this neighborhood. She's getting an award from the Southeast Neighbors for outstanding service to the community. . . . We're going to try to draw Mrs. Barry's interest. Her son is 2 now and would be a prime candidate for our program.
"We also plan to go down to the District Building with parents and children from past classes. One child in this class is the daughter of a woman Ann taught here."
Jean Lambert, president of the Hillcrest Parents Club, said: "We didn't think that the spirit of the law applied to this kind of employe, who was routinely rehired for 19 years. I'm a taxpaying resident and I'd like to see jobs go to my fellow citizens, but when you have an exceptional employe, you should make an exception."
Recreation spokesman Brown said no exception will be made.
"The mayor is interested in providing jobs for people who live in the city," he said.