Daycare Fight Emerges from “Purgatory”
Remember when a certain reformist-minded city administration went around closing stuff?
A group of fired daycare workers and their union—the American Federation of Government Employees—certainly do. On Tuesday, they filed a $10 million lawsuit against the D.C. government, alleging city officials sabotaged the Department of Parks and Recreation child-care programs they worked for and illegally privatized them, leaving the teachers jobless. The suit also claims $4 million of kid-care funding that could have been used to keep their programs going was "reprogrammed" by officials.
The workers filed a similar suit in federal court about two years ago, but it was moved to D.C. Superior Court for jurisdictional reasons. There, a judge decided that the matter should be taken up by the Office of Employee Appeals, whose administrative judges hear cases involving D.C. employees who want to contest suspensions, demotions, or terminations. One thing that's new about this most recent suit is that it calls the OEA out.
That's where things went off track, according to the suit. The OEA has let the case sit idle for 18 months even though D.C. law requires the agency to address appeals within 120 days, so the workers' attorney, civil rights lawyer Donald Temple, is going back to U.S. District Court.
The workers beef with the D.C. government dates back to April 2009, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty eliminated DPR daycare services for low-income families because of "underenrollment" and a funding shortfall, deftly handing the responsibility over to United Planning Organization. That was despite emergency council legislation that required Fenty to do a fiscal impact analysis before making a move. He didn't, hence the purported illegality.
The plaintiffs contend that low enrollment and funding problem were the result of a set up: DPR functionaries instructed centers not to accept applications from new families in 2008, so the centers ended up with too few students in 2009. They also cut $4 million dollars of funding from the budget for the centers, leaving it with a $2 million bankroll too small to cover operating costs, says the suit. That allegedly made the centers look unstable. Court papers say it's a mystery as to where the siphoned money went:
According to the Council’s Budget Director, “it appears that Clark Ray (“Ray”), the former Director of DPR and Deborah Gist (“Gist”), then State Superintendent, absent legal authority, agreed to reduce the MOU from $6.2 to $4.5, contrary to the budget approved by the Council and Congress.” To date, Plaintiffs do not know what happened to the $1.7 million dollars which Defendant reallocated. Said reallocation violated existing law which would have required City Council approval. The Council “subsequently learned that the budget for the child care subsidy was reduced again by [Defendant] at some later point, to $2.5 million” according to Goulet, a second illegal act. To date, Plaintiffs do not know what happened to the approximate $4 million dollars which Defendant illegally reallocated.
Office of Attorney General spokesperson Ariel Levinson-Waldman says his office "is reviewing the complaint" and will get back to City Desk with any further comments.
Though a hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, Temple says his clients will soon have their day in court, but emphasizes that's no thanks to the OEA. In a press release, Temple says that OEA, which has had trouble with backlogs in the past, "sentences fired workers to a legal purgatory and condones the District’s illegal terminations." Over the phone, he's even more harsh. "OEA is an illusion," says Temple. "It does nothing." A spokesperson for OEA declined comment.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery