- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

The District’s cash-strapped public school system is seeking to hire teachers even as it is abolishing the jobs of hundreds of experienced educators to balance its budget.

“We are progressively and actively seeking certified teachers for the 2004 and 2005 school year,” says an automated message at the school system’s human resources department.

Meanwhile, school principals this week began hand-delivering layoff notices to various teachers, counselors and support staff, according to schools officials.

In addition, many teachers at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Northwest — one of the District’s best-performing schools — did not report to work yesterday to protest the layoffs.

“We’re doing this because of the [layoffs] of teachers now and in the future,” said Francesca Britton, an art teacher at Banneker who did not report to work yesterday.

The D.C. school board voted May 11 to abolish 557 jobs, including 285 teaching positions, to help remedy a nearly $31 million deficit for the nearly $1 billion budget school system.

The school system’s plan to lay off teachers while hiring new ones has angered Washington Teachers Union officials, who are considering legal action to stop the layoffs, the union’s spokesman said.

“The school system finds itself in the odd position of having to hire teachers at the same time they’re abolishing positions,” said Terence Cooper, spokesman for the teachers union. “So you have what looks like a very odd and a very convoluted process.”

The Washington Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents about 5,000 public school teachers.

School system officials dispute accusations by the teachers union that they are seeking to replace veteran educators who may be losing their jobs through layoffs or buyouts with lower-paid, inexperienced teachers.

“It’s unfortunate that these things are converging on each other so they look like diametrically opposed processes, but they are not,” Karen Jackson, chief human resources officer for D.C. schools, said of the hiring call and job cuts.

“Let’s just say that the [school] district is a viable organization and so we’re always looking for new talent,” Miss Jackson said.

Miss Jackson said that in addition to the layoffs, the school system expects to lose at least 216 more teachers through buyout packages that the system has offered.

She said the 557 positions targeted for abolishment will be eliminated regardless of how many teachers accept buyout packages.

“The retirements will not interfere with the abolishments,” Miss Jackson said. “We still have to abolish these positions. We have to make sure at the end of the year that we have a balanced budget.”

However, Miss Jackson said that teachers who lose their jobs through abolishments could reapply for other teaching positions vacated by teachers who accept buyout packages.

Union officials also criticized a weighted point system that school system administrators use to identify employees for layoffs.

“We think the standards they’re using are arbitrary and subjectively applied,” Mr. Cooper said.

Miss Jackson defended the process: “It’s natural that whenever you have something as devastating as these abolishments, there are always going to be some people who feel that it’s too subjective.”

The system considers and assigns points for employees’ job performance, seniority, professional achievement and contributions to a school, Miss Jackson said.

In a letter last week to school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and interim Superintendent Robert Rice, D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson said school officials should use $10 million earmarked for education initiatives to reduce the impact of the layoffs.

“I urge you to immediately revisit the number of abolishments assigned to the overcrowded schools,” the Ward 3 Democrat said in a letter to Mr. Rice and Mrs. Cafritz.

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