Friday, October 09, 2009

Union: Rhee 'Packing the Bargaining Unit'

Union: Rhee 'Packing the Bargaining Unit'

The Washington Teachers' Union lawsuit to block last week's layoffs of 266 instructors and staff addresses one of the most bewildering aspects of DCPS' alleged budget shortfall: Why did Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee make 934 new hires in the spring and summer for a school system in which enrollment was expected to grow modestly at best?

The suit, filed late Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court, said the hiring spree was "far in excess of the number of new teachers hired for any school year in the recent past." In prior years, WTU said, "the number of newly hired teachers ranged from 250 to 350."

That range is consistent with D.C. Council testimony earlier this year from school budget expert Mary Levy. According to her analysis, based on DCPS salary schedules, the District averaged 294 new teacher hires between fiscal years 2001 and 2008.

"DCPS knew or should have known that packing the bargaining unit with 934 new teachers who were not needed given the student population for the 2009-2010 school year would result in the need to reduce the number of teachers employed by DCPS," writes WTU attorney Lee W. Jackson.

The union's court pleading offers no specific numbers, saying only that a "substantial number" of the 229 classroom teachers laid off "were among the older, more senior teachers in the WTU bargaining unit, and were not among the 934 new teachers DCPS had just hired during the spring and summer of 2009.

"On these facts, DCPS' attempt to disguise this mass discharge as a 'RIF' [reduction in force] caused by a "budget shortfall" is clearly a pretextual attempt to sidestep the WTU contract and to discharge a substantial number of veteran teachers."

The union suit says that it asked the District to delay the layoffs until an arbitrator could hear the matter, which DCPS declined to do.

WTU also argued that the District should be barred from making the layoffs until another labor dispute--a grievance over the firing of about 270 probationary teachers, or those with two years or less service, in July 2008--is resolved. A District judge ruled in August that the matter could be brought to an arbitrator.

No response yet from the District.

-- Bill Turque

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