- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

D.C. labor leaders representing public school employees yesterday agreed with schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s assessment that a bloated central administration has contributed to the school system’s ongoing struggles.

“Too much [has] been focused on the teacher, when in reality there are obstacles at the central administration that prohibit classroom teachers from being effective for students,” said Nathan A. Saunders, vice president of the Washington Teachers Union. “To the extent that those issues are focused on, we are excited because we’ve asked that they be taken into consideration.”

Mrs. Rhee, selected by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to turn around the District’s failing schools, has taken a hard line since her June appointment on the red tape and ballooning bureaucracy in the school system’s central office.

The chancellor has repeatedly said many school system employees have an inadequate understanding of their responsibilities and has prohibited any additional hirings in the central office without her explicit approval.

“Every single person needs to be clear on what their job description is, what their roles and responsibilities are, what the expectations are for what they’re going to be able to accomplish in that given year,” Mrs. Rhee told The Washington Times on Monday. “We have 11,500 employees to educate 55,000 kids. For me, those numbers don’t add up the right way.”

School employees working out of the system’s headquarters at 825 N. Capitol St. NE were reluctant to discuss Mrs. Rhee’s comments yesterday.

One worker, who did not want to be identified, said the chancellor’s characterization of inept employees at the central office does not apply to everyone.

“I resent the fact that people are painting everybody with one broad stroke as incompetent,” she said. “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’m a [very] good worker.”

Another school system employee said she agreed with Mrs. Rhee’s statements.

“I think she’s right,” she said. “There are a lot of people who can’t tell you what they do.”

James Ivey, president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 20 — a union that represents educational aides and clerical workers in the school system — said his organization welcomes any “paradigmatical shift that’s necessary to achieve certain expectations regarding our children in the city.”

“If it’s a positive direction, we support it,” Mr. Ivey said.

Mrs. Rhee already has encountered several endemic problems that plague the District’s school system, including the late delivery of textbooks to at least half of city schools and news that some will not have air conditioning by the time classes begin Aug. 27.

Mr. Saunders, whose organization represents more than 4,000 school employees, said Mrs. Rhee’s focus on “ineffective” workers could help the school system operate more smoothly.

“Teachers don’t deliver resources to themselves, whether books, materials or healthy buildings to work in,” Mr. Saunders said. “Accountability does have to happen down at the central administration.”