Recent events have really tested my confidence in Chancellor Rhee. I mean everyone around me is calling her a pathological liar or a degenerate sociopath incapable of human warmth or an enabler of sex with underage girls or a bumbling incompetent who was never qualified to run a convenience store much less the DCPS. It's hard to believe they're all wrong but I will cling desperately with the Washington Post to a time, not so long ago, when things were not so clear about the capabilities and competencies of our Michelle of Arc.
My mind wanders to the lovely picture of Michelle on the cover of Time magazine gently sweeping a classroom with a broom. And isn't that where she shines? Those incomparable people skills! The leadership by example! How many $275,000 a year Chancellors will get in there with the custodians to keep things in order.
Then there are the echoes of the soon-to-be president Barack Obama saying Michelle's name to a national TV audience. Even though he treats her name like it was poison now it was thrilling at the time. Misty watercolor memories of the way we were.
And I remember how loyal she can be when her man gives special tutoring to 16-year-old girls, lots of 16-year-old girls. You know when Michelle falls she falls hard, as many as 50 e-mails a day. How many other women in a position of great power would risk it all to cover up child molestation? It's the stuff of romance novels and indictments. Thankfully the one DC teacher that had sex with the student wasn't her betrothed and he could be RIFed several months after the incident.
But the greatest source of solace has always been that celebrated but mysterious period of Michelle's life that has only been explained by one man. Through the dogged investigative reporting of the WAPO's education maven Jay Mathews we now have the facts and a mountain of documentation to chase away all the doubters. Thank you Jay, how sweet to recite the tale!
"The Fable of Michelle Rhee" by Jay Mathews.
Once upon a time, there was a young Ivy League missionary with a couple years to kill before getting on with her life's work. Rather than backpacking through Europe or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after a safari in Africa, our intrepid heroine plunged into the mean streets of Baltimore where children who live in poverty test poorly.
One day the missionary-princess was struck down like St. Paul on the way to Damascus. "Sit the poor children in a circle," the voice told her. And sit them in a circle she did.
Her students forevermore scored like rich children on tests. And they all lived happily ever after.
Just take my word on that. I swear its true. No, no really, stop laughing. How rude. Ok, that's enough, get up off the floor. Geez, its a fairy tale. You know like Pinocchio?
Note to Bill Gates: I think Anita Dunn is going to need more money. This is starting to look like an episode of Mission Impossible.
--Adrian Fenty, spokesmodel for the Federal City Council.
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Conflicts of Interest
Dear Unconflicted Readers:
As I wrote in the last issue of themail, apologists for Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee argue that there was no conflict of interest or self-dealing when she negotiated agreements with foundations that donated millions of dollars to the DC Public Schools, and allowed the foundations to condition those gifts on the requirement that the leadership of DCPS not change — in other words, that she keep her job. The first defense of Rhee is that she didn’t personally negotiate the agreements with the foundations that guaranteed her job. That’s factually wrong. Bill Turque’s useful description of the prolonged negotiations between DCPS and the Washington Teachers Union (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcschools/2010/06/on_the_road_to_a_deal_gridlock.html) contains this passage: “After a seven-hour meeting in mid-December  ended with handshakes and high-fives, the talks were over in earnest. But the tentative agreement wasn’t complete because Rhee had to sell the deal to the private foundations needed to help finance the contract’s rich financial package, including a 21.6 percent raise and the performance pay plan. In 2008, Rhee said the commitments were firm. But the length of the talks had taken a toll. ‘Apparently [the foundations] were a little more difficult than she anticipated,’ Schmoke said. Rhee said that because of confidentiality agreements, she was limited in what she could tell private funders at the Broad, Robertson, Walton and Arnold foundations about the talks while they were ongoing. ‘The donors were waiting for a long time. They thought we were going to do this in July of 08,’ Rhee said. By the time a deal was finally at hand, she said, the funders didn’t feel compelled to rush.” Obviously, some part of the negotiations with the foundations may have been carried out by Rhee’s subordinates, but just as obviously Rhee was in charge of those negotiations for DCPS. If she objected to a clause that guaranteed her continued employment, she could have had it removed.
The second defense is that the foundations’ agreements contained nothing of personal value to Rhee. That can’t be taken seriously. Guaranteed employment is of value. The agreements may not have contained clauses that called for a raise in Rhee’s pay, but they contained clauses that were of greater personal value to her than a raise would have been — the threat that the millions of dollars the foundations were promising DCPS would be withdrawn if Rhee were fired. If someone approached your employer and guaranteed it millions of dollars of business on the condition that it continued to employ you, wouldn’t that be of value to you?
The third defense of Rhee is that this kind of job guarantee clause is common in grant agreements, that “everyone does it.” There are two responses to that. The first is simple: prove it. Show us the agreements that the DC government has entered into with foundations, nonprofit organizations, or corporations in which a gift to government is conditional on the government administrators of a department or agency remaining in their jobs. If there are such agreements, we need to have them exposed; we need to know what other government officials are negotiating that benefit themselves. The second is that even if other government officials have negotiated such deals in their own interest, it is still wrong. Public officials are supposed to deal in the public’s interests and on the public’s behalf, and not to benefit themselves.
The final defense of Rhee is that the agreements with the foundations were actually signed by the DC Public Education Fund, rather than by DCPS. But the Public Education Fund acted solely as a pass through, and not as an independent dispenser of the funds. DCPS was the designated beneficiary of the funds; there was no chance that the DC Public Education Fund would give them to another organization; there is no evidence that it acted in any way independently of DCPS or Chancellor Rhee. Rhee and Fenty created the DC Public Education Fund, and the director of the Fund is a close personal friend of Rhee’s, who even hosted Rhee’s engagement party.
In the end, the argument that the Office of Campaign Finance has no reason to investigate the charge that Chancellor Rhee had a conflict of interest or acted in a self-dealing way in negotiating the foundations’ gifts with these conditions fails — unless it is means simply, “We like Rhee; don’t question anything she does.”