City Desk

DCPS Surplus Revelation Threatens to Blow Up Teacher Contract Deal


A week after a new D.C. Public Schools teacher contract proposal was rolled out with great fanfare, fiscal revelations aired today leave its ultimate implementation very much in doubt.

Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Washington Teachers' Union head George Parker appeared at a D.C. Council administrative meeting earlier today to brief councilmembers on the agreement. Rhee was grilled on the deal's financing details and revealed that retroactive raises are being funded by a $34 million DCPS surplus.

With that revelation, "everyone's ears perked up," says a person at the meeting. That's because less than eight months ago, the school system was pleading poverty and ordered layoffs for 266 teachers to close a $40M budget gap.

The surplus, Rhee told the room, was the result of a miscalculation by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Specifically, she said expense projections had been based on an average teacher salary of $81,000 when the actual figure is nearly $15,000 less.

Councilmembers were aghast at the disclosure—an admission that at least some of the layoffs, which tore the local body politic asunder, were unnecessary. D.C. Council Chairman (and mayoral candidate) Vincent C. Gray was "stunned and astounded," a spokesperson says. Rhee said she had "recently" learned of the miscalculation, says a meeting attendee.

The political ramifications are heavy.

Bearing the brunt of the disclosure, at least immediately, is union president Parker—who will have to decide whether to seek reinstatement for the fired teachers with the surplus, or to press forward with a contract. In either case, his hard-line opponents within the union have a new avenue of attack; he stands for re-election next month. Parker claimed today that he had no knowledge of the surplus prior to the meeting.

Also in the hot seat: CFO Natwar M. Gandhi, who certified the erroneous figures last summer. Rhee named her former agency CFO Noah Wepman as the culprit, meeting sources say, but Wepman was supposed to be accountable to Gandhi—not Rhee.

In the wake of the fall layoffs, tough questions were raised about Wepman's independence from the chancellor, and he was forced out after a poor showing at a council hearing. Questions about Gandhi's stewardship of school finances now reappear. Note also that Rhee's fingering of Gandhi represents a shift of political blame to an entity ostensibly independent of the mayor; Gandhi, of course, has survived much worse.

Other folks with egg on their face: Katherine Bradley, who is spending $100,000 in her foundation's money, to hire former White House communications chief Anita Dunn to handle, among other things, the rollout of the teacher contract. And this is what they get?

The big questions going forward: Assuming Parker doesn't withdraw from the contract agreement and that Gandhi certifies the deal, will teachers vote for big raises knowing it comes at the expense of wrongfully fired ex-colleagues? And if they do vote to ratify, will a feisty group of D.C. councilmembers, led by a mayoral candidate, abide by their wishes and vote to approve the contract in this election year?

LL was not in the room; Examiner's Leah Fabel was there, among other reporters.

Fabel quotes Gray's reaction: "If I were one of the fired teachers, I would be ready to put my hands around someone's throat and squeeze till there was no air left....At the end of the day, some people's pay raises [would be] funded with someone else's job."

UPDATE, 6:05 P.M.: A Rhee spokesperson challenges LL's reporting that she identified Wepman as the source of the bad information; LL has asked in what context Rhee might have uttered his name.

Gandhi's office has issued a statement: "All of the facts, figures and information concerning the finances of the teachers contract will be released when the CFO’s analysis of the contract is made public."

And a statement from the WTU:

To put it simply, this is unacceptable.

We once again request that DCPS reinstate the teachers who were laid off. If the teachers are not reinstated, the WTU requests a new hearing on the RIF, at which time the newly available budget information will be provided to the court.

We also are requesting that the D.C. city council take legislative action to ensure greater transparency in the budget process. In particular, we would like to see more rigorous guidelines for determining what does—and does not—constitute a crisis that allows for unregulated actions like October’s RIF.

The WTU calls for a close review of the unilateral powers currently accorded the chancellor and the mayor, to determine if more must be done to ensure that there is greater accountability, both to the council and to the people of the District of Columbia.

Nothing can give back to the teachers, the students and the community what was lost as a result of either malevolence or mismanagement of the budget. We must, however, take all necessary steps to ensure that it does not happen again.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Indeed

    This is simply astounding. Either Rhee is a complete moron or she is a liar. Those are the only two choices we have. Claiming ignorance is just not an excuse. Wow. Shameful.

  • Rick Mangus


  • bloomingdale20001

    Wow...just wow!!!!

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  • Rob

    Why am I NOT surprised? There is clearly an agenda here and it is not specific to educating the District's children. This was done to open up jobs for all those new people moving into DC to occupy all of its brand new condos.

  • MM

    But, what is the council TRULY prepared to do about this? Again, they are a pack of toothless wolves! They're always shocked at something during these hearings but there follow-up is non-existent. I can't take or leave Michelle Rhee but I bet you she comes out this untouched as always. Shame on the imbeciles on the dias. Did Marion say this was the worse abuse of government he's seen in 31 years? Really Uncle Ruckus, I mean Marion?!

  • Indeed

    @MM, excellent point. Still doesn't mean that Rhee comes out of this looking good. This will have an impact on the election. No question about it.

  • Ward 5

    Oh the irony - the people who cant do simple math - ultimately responsible for teaching it (making sure its taught).

    I'm so not surprised.

  • http://deleted candycane1

    Teachers were nationally bashed, fired, labeled child abusers, and this bitch has the nerve to just put it out there that there was an error due to the info that Wepman gave her? She still takes no responsibility. She screwed over hundreds of employees including central staff, teachers and principals. Plain and simple the bitch needs her ass kicked and then locked up. This is criminal.

  • Reid

    Am I the only person slightly disturbed with the casual familiarity that Vince Gray seems to display towards the mechanics of choking someone to death?

  • Five To Go

    @Candycane1 I too, think this Dumb-Ass-Stupid-BITCH needs to be indicted. She lied to the city council in the fall of last year, stating that the Council did not give her department enough money. Then Noah Wepman states that he Told Her Not to Do the RIF, and what does the incompetent fool do? She goes right along and does what she wanted to do all along, fire teachers. Michelle Rhee and Nat Ghandi both need to go. I would rather have the Feds control the school systems' budget, because as you can plainly see that, Rhee+Parker+Fenty= The Three Stooges.
    What a bunch of BS. Rhee is always talking about the ineffective teachers, well she is truly an ineffective chancellor. I see why she did not stay in the classroom.

  • Five To Go

    As far as what I have read about the DCSP contract the teachers should blow it up, and start all over with a new union president, superintendent (not a fake chancellor's position), and a new mayor.

  • L

    This is for Candycane1 and Five to Go-
    While I agree with your general sentiments I take issue with your tone. Your language is violent and abusive. As a teacher in a DC elementary school, I spend as much time helping students treat each other with respect as I do teaching the curriculum. If the adults in our lives can't be civil, what hope do we have for our kids?
    Please grow up- the name-calling makes you both sound ignorant, and clouds your otherwise excellent points.

  • noodlez








  • Manor

    Face it, Rhee is not liked because of the her race. Enough said.

  • Wonder Woman

    This continued CORRUPTION in the District of Columbia is an easy excuse to continue to not grant us statehood. How can Rhee be allowed to violate these employees over so-called incorrect figures? This was some scheme that backfired on her. Kharma is resolute.

  • Five To Go

    @ L you need to grow up. This woman has ruined people's reputation and lives. Yeah, I called her names. Anyone that has had their lives destroyed because of incompetence would do the same. If I had been one of the fired teacher I would have used even stronger langauage and I would sue the city for hiring an unqualified person to run this school system down the drain. If you don't like what is said on this blog then don't read it.

  • Bryan Weaver

    Wow....this is so sad.

    I hope LL goes back and looks at his post from a year ago when the council cut 12.7 million dollars out of the FY 2010 Metro budget and placed the money into the earmark slush fund.... of 50 million dollars for non-competitive pork. Now we are facing a massive shortfall in our part of the Metro budget. Where are the adults here?

  • S.E.

    @Manor..........Are you serious????

  • tired

    This Woman ruin lives and all she did was running around as though she did nothing wrong. You can't do that and get away with it. The teachers and staff that were lied on did not deserve it and they need to sue. Hey Rhee use the broom from time magazine cover and fly away.

  • http://deleted candycane1

    @L: It's OK that you agree with my general sentiments and it's OK that you don't like my tone. It wasn't written to please you. You ask, what hope do we have for our kids? Well I can answer that from your post. I'm sure your comments are meant to be constructive criticisms so you won't be offended as I offer mine. Your statement: "I spend as much time helping students treat each other with respect as I do teaching the curriculum." I take issue with any part of a statement that refers to "teaching the curriculum." The most effective teachers never say that. They understand that they teach CHILDREN and not the curriculum. The curriculum is a tool. That understanding is manifested in many ways that includes positive classroom management, effective planning, differentiated and data driven instruction and relative assessment. That's my hope for our kids. I want them all to have teachers who fully understand the teaching-learning process that allows our children to obtain skills and to learn how to think.

    That job is hard enough without a chancellor who has disrespected, nationally bashed, fired and labeled teachers as child molesters. Her mismanagement of federal grants and taxpayer dollars is a crime and anti-deficiency violations need to be explored. Anti-deficiency violations carry a penalty of dismissal and/or prosecution. So in my opinion, with my freedom to speak and with you not liking my tone, Rhee is a bitch that needs her ass kicked and thrown in jail. Now do I really wish her physical harm? No! Do
    I really want her prosecuted? Yes! Do I think she's a bitch? Hell yes!

  • DarkWater

    @Wonder Woman – this craziness has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Voting Representation or Statehood! Since when is there a set of rules or ethical qualifications that exist to become a state?!?!? If there are, then New Jersey (that had a whole city's worth of elected officials including local rabbi's go down on the same corruption sting), Illinois (who's past 4-5 governors have been indicted on federal corruption charges), Nevada (who's public officials have a long sordid history of corruption too lengthy to mention here), and Louisiana (need I say more? see Nevada comment) all need to have their statehood revoked! It is particularly irritating when I hear people make the same lame argument about DC not deserving statehood, without mentioning the seemingly entrenched political corruption in other states. If DC doesn't deserve voting representation (which last I checked is the very foundation of our democracy and should seemingly be our right as American citizens) then perhaps we shouldn't have to pay federal taxes or have our citizens fight in defense of our country either.

  • Wonder Woman

    @DarkWater - I never wrote that I was against DC Statehood. I stated that incidents like these are EXCUSES used by forces against DC Statehood to keep DC from getting it. I am one of the many DC residents who does not have federal respresentation but has to pay federal taxes so you are definitely preaching to the choir. Good night.

  • L

    Five to Go and Candy-
    Thanks for your responses, (and especially the thought behind yours, Candy cane). I'm thinking of one of my students right now: "I didn't call her a bitch, I called her a BEECH!"

    I'm just saying- in our calls for reckoning and taking responsibility for this massive clusterfudge (another student quote), let us not be beeches ourselves.

    Teachers walk the talk.

  • DB

    If Rhee didn't name anyone, then she didn't slander anyone. No ones reputation is ruined--just bank accounts.

    That said, it is sad to think some teachers that principals wanted to keep were downsized if not necessary.

    But cut folks some slack. Budget predictions can go wrong. Here they did. But the executive has to act on those predictions regardless.

    As a side note, the contract offer appears insane. Is performance trumping seniority worth such massive pay raises?

  • http://deleted candycane1

    Beech is a polite version of bitch. I can never find a reason to call someone's child a beech or a bitch. However, when it comes to Rhee she is a bitch. I'm sticking with that.

  • noodlez


  • dcps parent

    yet no one knows any good teachers who were fired, only teachers that they're happy to see go...

  • Phil

    dcps parent,
    spare us that line of crap.
    According to Miss Rhee (and you believe her, doncha) most of those teachers let go were good teachers.
    One RIFfed teacher had even received an national recognition in Feb 2009 as Miss Rhee stood by her side.
    Go read Bill Turque's blog and stories at the Post for more details.

  • MM

    I know of some very dedicated and passionate teachers that were let go. Let go by incompetent administrators who have no business leading schools but serve as good ol' "watchdogs" for the unruly colored kids in Wards 7 and 8! Absolutely pathetic! You'll find that a great number of teachers that were let go were the vocal ones who chose not to tote the company line. Who spoke up on behalf of their seemingly forgotten students and parents. Again I say, what is this council going to do now that they know they've been hood-winked yet again. These imbeciles gave the mayor all of this power and still there isn't an appointed monitor to report on the status of the mayoral takeover of schools as dictated by law they enacted. I swear a metrobus should hit the dias and we start over!

  • Tom

    As a federal budget analyst, I know for a fact that there is no way that 8 months could go by without this being realized. Even if the initial projections were way off, as actuals started to roll in flags would instantly go off.

    Either there is no one home in the CFO's office or there is corrupt behavior going on. At the very least the management of DCPS and OCFO are completely malfeasant and should be fired.

  • Coldbliss

    Dear Mayor Fenty,

    Some friendly advice for you. If you want to win your mayoral re-election in 2010, you need a sacrificial slab of meat for this epic clusterf*ck. It's time to sharpen the knives and see what's on the menu. I see a Roast of Ghandi or a Fillet au Rhee. Hmmmm...who gets first cuts?

  • incredulous 2

    Tom is exactly right about budgeting. This could be "explained" as due to the standard of make believe about school-specific allocations and the costs attached to labor classes. ie. do the numbers include all fringes and out-year obligations or not.
    But, these prices never get challenged. Like dumb cows we just munch on the stuff put in our troughs at the feed-lot. Anybody notice, for example the uniform and extraordinary costs attached to chief maintenance engineers at schools this year? Or the replacement of multi-tiered costs for principals depending on the grades and/or size of the school, as was done in the past? Gone. Now a principal of a 180 student elementary school with 8 classrooms gets costed at the same rate as the principal of a 1500 student high school. That means that internal budgeting of discretionary funds at the schools gets screwed up, because everybody is fighting about shortages and generosities that are due to the arbirary prices.
    Again: Thank you Tom. The $$ are real, and the labor force and its entitlements are known with cutting of the first pay-checks. That spending on teacher salaries was lower than budgeted was known by September 15.

  • ANC Commissioner 8B03

    This is crazy, I charge the council to do just the wtu stated to reinstate the fired teachers. Sad but true no one wins. The council needs not to approve the retroactive not because our teaches don't deserve pay raises because I think we can agree on giving higher salaries to them but not at the expense of fired teachers do to an allege budget shortfall and cut. Unfortunately, I don't understand how the CFO miscalculated 36 million dollars esp when the government knows exactly how much each employee makes. Today, I will be the first Commissioner and called for the resignation of the Chancellor not because she is incapable of doing her job, she is incapable of doing what's right and fair to ensure the young people are succeeding. First paying kids to go to school and make good grades, to closing down underserved and under enrolled schools in much needed communities that will now turn into mixed use development to firing teachers without cause, hiding a sex scandal to now this mishap that caused so many good teacher to lose their jobs. The question is, when was the Chancellor going to tell the taxpapers that there were a surplus of dollars?. Secrets lies and hidden games, who are you really serving.

  • Wendy Glenn

    We all may want to finger point but this all leads back to the lack of transparency and accountability to the Council and the taxpayers of the District of Columbia. When the Council made the Mayor and Chancellor autonomous then they wrote the Fenty Administration a blank check to do whatever they wanted, however they wanted to do it. What is the council TRULY prepared to do about this; will they allow Michelle Rhee to come out of this untouched.

    We have only just begun to see the type of fiscal mismanagement and bamboozling that this city has been laboring under for the past 4 years. I am waiting to see all of the hiring of Fenty friends and children of friends while they continued to fire DC residents from various DC government jobs. This 266 in DCPS is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I know at least two RIF'd teachers who lost their homes and had to take their children out of college due to this illegal firing and now we find out that this collusion in fiscal dishonesty did not need to happen. Wepman declared budget pressures, Rhee co-signed budget pressures and Ghandi certified budget all of these MATH EXPERTS with DEGREES and PHd's can't do simple math and they love to bash the city's children for their lack of math skills, well if the learned folk who are supposed to be teaching them can't do simple math then how do they expect to teach the children to do the same. This is plain and simple collusion in a lie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    So, if you are over 40 years-old and black and teaching in DCPS, the Fenty Administration will concoct a LIE to place you on the UNEMPLOYMENT line and replace you with younger teachers of a different hue.

    I think that the fact that Chancellor Rhee did not even bat an eyelash when she said that "oh, well, there was an error of $34million dollars" and went on with the rest of her statement says it all to me. She could care less about the mistakes that she makes. Oh, I forgot, she doesn't "regret" anything so I guess she is OK with this devastation to 266 employees' careers.

    Retribution/karma, etc., will repay her and this administration ten fold. You cannot keep being dishonest and screwing people over and and then just think that it will be business as usual.

    I hope the teachers do not ratify that teacher contract because those funds from private donors are not guaranteed and if she can do this to 266 teachers what more will she do to them when the money does not come forward for those raises.

  • hymesb

    Teachers, take the money and the contract. Life ain't perfect. And, if you can get a pay raise then you should take it.

    Anyway, Gray is "shocked and astounded" about everything.

  • http://deleted candycane1

    @Tom: You are exactly right. This was a willful act with a hidden agenda. I think the matter should be referred to the US Attorney's Office.

    @Wendy: I agree with you and quite frankly since it seems that there was a hidden agenda, the tentative agreement was built on a lie. I would like to see WTU totally back out of the agreement and not even speak to the ratification. In my opinion, to ratify that contract would somehow validate that teachers would be paid based on the wrongful termination of other members. The union should just back out and go right back to court. This time with a better lawyer.

  • proballdc

    Teachers and the Teachers union do not have access to city financial records. The Mayor, Chancellor and CFO do. This is why the whole thing looks contrived and intentional. If so, it is a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act levied upon the District by Congress, and, thus, if found to be intentional, a prosecutable violation of federal law.

    There are far-reaching implications to this financial mis-management. In essence, the city submitted to Congress a certified budget that under-reported city revenue. So Congress, too, has pie on their face for accepting it. They will be none too pleased.

    Instead of trying to right the wrong, the chancellor states that she intends on standing behind the wrong. The proposed retroactive raises is, in effect, blood money. "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree". I cannot see any court, with this new revelation standing behind the terminations principally because it was reportedly undertaken as a result of "spending pressures" utilizing a process (RIF) that is to be used for 'non-performance' related reasons ONLY.

    You cannot say that you want what is best for the children or the people of the District of Columbia, if you support or enable public officials to usurp the laws that govern the city. That would be supporting lawlessness. Less severe though no different than supporting homicide, "under certain circumstances".

    This is not the first time that this administration has had it's liberties with laws that govern the District; particularly when it pertains to the use of and dispersion of local tax dollars.

    Justice demands that these teachers be made whole. There are measures already in place to rid the city of non-performing employees. If any of them were of that mix, that is the process that should have and must be used to terminate them.

  • Ward-8

    All of the noise about Rhee is this and she lied, smoke and mirrors and all other names uttered and this over paided City Council is another joke however, no one look at who is truly at fault,the CFO(Gandhi)is selected by Congress and can only be remove by them and sould have been removed a long time ago which is another story. The CFO is required and mandated to review all DC goverment agencies budgets and to accomplish this, each agency is assigned a CFO selected and appointed by guess who. Each agency CFO is responsible for verfying that agency budget,short fall,surplus etc. and are only answerable to guess who.Final verification of all agency budget must come from the office of guess who,I will answer this GANDHI.So all of the pundits,nay sayers direct your anger at the real villian!!

  • proballdc

    @Ward-8: Read my first two sentences. Agencies submit budget proposals to the Mayor who submits it to the Council & CFO as a part of the certification process.

    Yes, Ghandi should be held accountable, however, nobody can remove him other than Congress. However, it IS the within the legal authority of the District to right the wrong and if they are unwilling to do so, within the rights of the courts to mandate it. It is a matter of Justice. Pure and simple.

  • Indeed

    @hymesb, you must be joking. "Life ain't perfect?" That's why teachers should take a contract put forward on a lie?

    When Michelle Rhee says that she didn't release the information that there was a surplus to the union during negotiations because she was under no obligation to, as reported in the Washington Post, it is impossible for me to believe that she knows what she's doing. This was a terrible mistake on her part. There won't be a contract any time soon.

    I can't speculate about whether she technically did something illegal, but what she did was reprehensible on a professional and moral level.

    No thinking person in the teaching profession would vote yes on this.

  • Add-up

    You are soooooo right Ward 8. We can't look at everyone in the room and just ignore the elephant which is Gandhi and his handler(s) Congress.

    It is April, school is out in June, the council goes on recess in July, the mayor-campaign hits the home-stretch in August and we vote in the primaries in September.

    In the mean time students are out and then have returned back for school-year 2010-11...either the RIF teachers have or have not been reinstated. If Rhee leaves can you really imagine what the interim would do or could do in midst of an election year? I know the outcry is to say get rid off Rhee...but do we have the voice to say Hey you, get in here and fix this mess!!! We dare not say it to Gandhi...because his response will be who you think you hollering at!?!

  • Tom

    @Ward-8, there are a lot of people at fault DCPS budget and finance office for poor budget formulation and tracking, DCPS Management (including Rhee) for accepting faulty numbers and not asking questions such as "what are your assumptions based on", "How are actuals tracking to estimates", etc etc. [Basic Management].

    The Mayor (I'm sure he was briefed on this) not asking hard questions and having his analyst look over the figures. The CFO for accepting DCPS budget numbers and not challenging them.

    The fact that this could have gone up so many levels with no on challenging a basic assumption such as an $81K salaries per teacher. Coupled with the fact that this was mentioned in passing 8 months after the RIF, leads me to believe their was some sort of conspiracy to fabricate budget numbers to justify firing teachers (not to mention have cops escort them out of schools).

    Someone had to know something, and they had to know it either when the "deficit" was first announced or very shortly after. There needs to be an investigation

  • Isn’t it Obvious?

    @ hymesb: Clearly you must need a colonic cleansing, because it is obvious that you are full of sh#*! How can you justify telling teachers to ratify this contract? It was negotiated in bad faith; and thus it is illegal. More importantly, the pay raise that they would be accepting is base on the salaries of their RIFf'ed former colleagues. I do not believe that you would appreciate being fired based on a lie that there was a budget deficit only to find out that there was in fact a budget surplus; and that your former salary was used to pay out pay raises to your former colleagues. That kind of crazy talk and thinking is exactly what is wrong in this city; and in this country. All some of you people seem to think about is yourselves. Do you not understand that we are all interconnected?

  • ABF

    When will the FEDS come in and start locking up Fenty and crew?? They should have a cable tv show. First there was no RIF, then the so called contract comes with 65 million dollars for raises but...but, they will come from donations.....NOW there is money soooo lets use it for thr raises that we never had money to pay for in the first place. Fenty got his frat brothers to give us some of the money they all stole with those triple charges and false documents on those bogus contract.

  • Indeed

    People need to take a look at the conversation Bill Turque had with Rhee, which is now posted over at the Post.

    She lives in another dimension in which being an honest broker for a public institution doesn't matter. Really, she is just mind blowingly incompetent. She needs to resign.

  • sedcdude

    @ Manor

    YOU face it, Rhee is not liked because of her INCOMPETENCE and the fact that she has "winged" it at the expense of BLACK children and teachers!

  • Jahmainiquia

    How is it that a Korean and an East Indian were unable to catch a mathematical MISTAKE!?!?!?!?

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