D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee won an initial victory yesterday in her effort to shake up the school district's central office as the D.C. Council voted 10 to 3 to give her the power to fire nonunion workers without cause, an action supporters say could remove a major barrier to education reform.Indeed the eyes of the United States are upon DC and that is a good thing.
"Today is a momentous day for District of Columbia public schools," Rhee said at a news briefing after the vote on the personnel bill. "It marks truly an amazing first step that we are finally going to put the best interest of students above everything else."
Council members also called it a day in which they put the needs of the 50,000 children in the troubled school system first.
"This is not the time to be timid," said Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).
The central office, often referred to as "825" for its address on North Capitol Street, has been criticized as one of the biggest hurdles to improving public education. Teachers have complained about not being paid on time. Principals have grumbled about work orders that get lost, leaving roofs or boilers unrepaired.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's takeover of the schools this year followed a trend in which big-city mayors have seized the reins of school districts, including in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Rhee said yesterday's vote takes the next step: getting more control over employees.
"This legislation is about creating a new culture," she said. "It is a culture of accountability."
Rhee said chancellors and superintendents throughout the country had e-mailed her and were "praying" that the legislation would pass and that their cities would follow the District's lead. "The eyes of the nation are on D.C.," Rhee said.
Rhee, who has made no secret of her belief that one of hte biggest barriers to reform is the sense of entitlement amoung school employees, particularly the central office employees. She has campaigned hard for this authority. The City Council will have to vote again on January 8, 2008 to fully and finally pass the measure. Given the overwhelming vote, and the relatively short time frame for union representives to cry about the move, the measure should pass in early January. I have no objections to protections for workers, but those protections should not, cannot and must not extend to protecting an incompetent worker. These people serve the taxpayer and the tax payer has a right to competent workers.
Hint to DC Central Office Wokers--take some time to make sure your desks are cleaned out over the Christmas holidy because the pink slips could start making their way to your inboxes on January 9.