- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 3, 2009

D.C. public schools officials announced Friday they will fire nearly 400 employees - including 229 teachers - because of budget cuts.

Schools have been expecting the cuts since they were announced in September by schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. But Friday was the first time numbers were announced. In all, 388 employees will be cut, according to a statement from the schools system.

The number of teachers affected is approximately 5 percent of the system’s 4,400 teachers, according to numbers from the District’s teachers union.

Affected employees were being notified both in person and by mail, according to a spokeswoman for the teachers union. They are being put on paid leave until Nov. 2.

“This is a difficult time, and we’re doing everything possible to provide support for our schools, to minimize any disruption and to ensure schools can focus on serving students,” Miss Rhee said in a statement posted on the public schools’ Web site.

The statement said 80 percent of schools will lose two or fewer teachers. About 60 percent will lose one teacher or none.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said in the statement that “each budget adjustment was made in the best interest of our students and in an effort to ensure that teaching and learning will not be affected.”

Miss Rhee again emphasized Friday that the layoffs were the result of more than $40 million in budget cuts. But the president of the Washington Teachers’ Union and the chairman of the D.C. Council have said Miss Rhee was wrong to blame the budget.

Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker said that if there was a budget crunch, it was Miss Rhee’s fault for hiring some 900 teachers over the summer. Mr. Parker said normal attrition requires the schools system to hire some 300-400 teachers every year, but he said it didn’t make sense to hire so many new teachers.

“Many of the veteran teachers feel this is happening on the part of the chancellor to remove veteran teachers,” Mr. Parker said earlier in the week.

Miss Rhee has denied that she was targeting veteran teachers. Her office has said all employees were rated on four factors, including length of service, to determine who should be cut.

Miss Rhee has said she had no choice but to fire teachers and that she had thought the system’s budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 would be nearly $30 million to $40 million more when she hired teachers in the spring. The total shortfall for the year is $43.9 million, she said Friday.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has challenged Miss Rhee’s numbers. He has said the council approved $770 million for the city’s schools in 2010, roughly equivalent to what it gave the system in 2009. Schools did not get $8 million to adjust for inflation, and summer programs were cut by $9 million.

Miss Rhee did not break down how she calculated the $43.9 million figure, and her spokeswoman, Jennifer Calloway, said earlier in the week she did not have it.

The District’s public school system currently has about 45,000 students, a number that has decreased since 2005, when the system had nearly 14,000 more students.

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