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The battle between Washington D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a headstrong reformer, and D.C. teachers’ unions is heating up. Upon being hired in 2007, Rhee was given the nearly impossible task of negotiating, newly expired, teacher collective bargaining agreements. Since then, negotiations have made little progress with Rhee refusing to permit long standing union sinecures. When compared to national averages, Washington D.C. public schools fall short in EVERY education statistic. This news is not new, in fact, it is painfully accepted here. Rewarding teachers’ unions with cushy contracts while D.C.’s children fall farther and farther behind seems dissolute, at best.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the parent union of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU), is up in arms after Rhee hired 934 teachers this summer and announced 380 job cuts this September. Rhee made such cuts in the name of the $43.99 million gap in the current budget.

“The audacity! How dare she bring in new teachers AND balance the budget! Who does this Michelle Rhee think she is?” I suspect members of the WTU whispered to each other. How ridiculous it is that DC education standards are satisfactory? And yet, it is an argument that teachers unions are making by demanding collective bargaining contracts that isolate them from any and all accountability. 

The DC Council is frustrated with the deadlock between Rhee and labor and is threatening to overturn mayoral control of DC schools, an act that would strip Rhee, a Mayor Fenty appointee, of power. On the cusp of meaningful reform, the DC council is feeling the heat from unions. Reform would mean less power for labor, concessions the AFT are unwilling to make.

Labor is determined to stop Rhee and Mayor Fenty in their tracks. And AFT, with an enormous membership, more than twice the population of Washington DC, has the resources to do so. Make no doubt about it, AFT is serious about this fight currently posting stories about Rhee on the front page of their website.

The DC Council is holding a meeting with Chancellor Rhee and Mayor Fenty on Thursday, October 29, 2009, to discuss reform efforts and gauge the mood of the public. Last week, the DC council held a similar meeting where presidents of the WTU, Teamsters Local Union No. 639, Teamster Local Union No. 730, AFSA Local 4/AFL-CIO, and a slew of other powerful union members showed up. The pro-reform movement risks being drowned out by the powerful labor lobby. It is imperative that Chancellor Rhee supporters show up in great number to next weeks DC Council meeting.

There will be a meeting before the hearing at 9am on the steps of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue. To sign a petition showing your support, or for more information, visit