Local: Education

Friction grows between DCPS, teachers

Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

The relationship between D.C. Public Schools and its teachers' union, which have touted collaboration since the resignation of Michelle Rhee, is becoming "a little rough," the union chief told The Washington Examiner.

On Monday at noon, the Washington Teachers' Union plans to march on city hall to protest proposed budget cuts that would increase class sizes and cut special education positions in the city's school system.

The rally is called "Stop Hurting D.C. Kids."

"I would have hoped [DCPS] would have discussed matters with folks who actually do the jobs, and not made millions of dollars of policy changes without clearly thinking through the impact on children and workers," said Nathan Saunders, who believes DCPS's plan to cut more than 200 special education coordinator positions and give their duties to psychologists is misguided.

School officials have explained that they believe psychologists will better serve students' special needs. In a document to be released by DCPS, officials write that "having psychologists, who are trained in psycho-educational assessments, data-driven decisions, and intervention planning, play this role at the school level in the next step ... [W]e will also ensure better coordination between assessment data, interventions processes, and special education services."

Saunders said that solution sounds good but won't hold up in the classroom, and he's been frustrated in his attempts to communicate that view with DCPS; when he calls, he receives one answer in the morning and another in the afternoon, a sign he takes that "mid-level managers" are calling the shots instead of Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Mayor Vincent Gray.

"We're over a dozen calls now," he said. "I know when folks are blowing smoke up my leg."

The union had a difficult relationship with former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. It took them three years to negotiate the current contract, and a national teachers' union had to mediate the conflict. Rhee resigned in 2010 after Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election to Gray, whose campaign received $1 million from the American Federation of Teachers.

The relationship between the school system and its teachers is more collaborative under Henderson, both parties have said over the last 18 months. And still Saunders says he doesn't think Henderson is behind his issues with DCPS, as he heads to the Wilson Building with teachers, school administrators, parents and the local firefighters' union.

The Examiner detailed the union's description of their relationship and allegations about DCPS's decision-making to a spokeswoman for Henderson. She declined to comment.

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