- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

A small group of D.C. teachers and union representatives yesterday took city politicians to task, calling on them to give the public school system more money to prevent hundreds of layoffs.

Thirty teachers from Dunbar High School in Northwest attended a meeting yesterday of the D.C. Council’s education subcommittee to argue against plans to eliminate 771 jobs in the 67,000-student public school system to close a $38 million spending gap.

The system plans to lay off up to 10 percent of the District’s 5,400 teachers with most of the cuts concentrated in the high schools.

Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said the school board does not want to take teachers from lower grades. “They will not be touched,” she said of the District’s elementary schools.

Most of the teachers at yesterday’s two-hour hearing urged politicians to increase the school system’s budget so hundreds of teachers and other public school personnel will not lose their jobs.

D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, who chairs the council’s education committee, pledged additional funding.

“We will get the school system additional funds,” he said. But he stopped short of promising to avoid layoffs, cautioning teachers that job cuts could still occur even if the school system closes its $38 million deficit gap.

“This is causing a lot of turmoil in the schools,” council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat said. “Every teacher is worried about whether or not they’ll have a job in a matter of weeks.”

Mr. Chavous said the school system has exceeded its budget by $300 million in the past four years despite declining enrollment.

“We allocate these dollars and we can’t control how they’re spent,” said Mr. Chavous. “That’s incredibly frustrating.”

He said that’s the reason Mayor Anthony A. Williams and several council members want a greater control over how the Board of Education spends its money.

During yesterday’s hearing, the teachers also raised concerns about the weighted evaluation that system school officials are using to determine who should receive layoff notices.

Administrators said they will use a system that gives an employee as many as 105 points, evaluating job performance, seniority, professional achievement, and contributions to a school. Additional points will be given to District residents.

Teachers disagreed with the system.

“That’s on purpose to give the powers that be the flexibility to do what they want to do,” said Thomas Briggs, a Dunbar teacher, who called the evaluation plan too subjective.

Mrs. Cafritz said school principals will have input on which teachers receive layoff notices.

She urged school administrators to follow the proper procedures, saying, “We don’t want this to be the means by where some folks can exercise their vendettas.”

Mrs. Cafritz also said school system officials are working on a plan to offer veteran employees buyout packages to avoid some layoffs. But she said the plan is still in the early stages.

Earlier this week, D.C. school system administrators said the job cuts were necessary to cover a $38 million budget shortfall. Interim D.C. schools Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie plans to identify by Dec. 19 the employees who will lose their jobs. The last day for employees who receive layoff notices will be Jan. 29, school administrators said.

At least one educator angrily demanded that elected District officials return political contributions from former leaders of the Washington Teachers Union who have been indicted for embezzling millions of dollars in union dues.

Former union President Barbara A. Bullock, 66, and her former assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, 62, gave thousands to Mr. Williams, D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, and former Ward 4 Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, according to D. C. Office of Campaign Finance records.

“Reach into your war chest and pay back that money,” said Jerome Brocks, chairman of the WTU political action committee and a Dunbar High School teacher.

Last January, Mr. Williams said he was not aware of any illicit activity by Mrs. Bullock and Mrs. Hemphill, his former re-election campaign chairman, and that he would return to the union any tainted campaign donations.


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