Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rhee in a Nutshell

Modified 9am, May 4

I'm back in NYC but I still have DC on the brain. I know that the NY State Senate passed a lifting of the charter cap and Resisters are screaming for action but I have to keep going back to DC where 35% of the schools are charters and what is going down there - or not going down due to resistance - is a precursor and national trend setter. I subscribe to Gary Imhoff's fabulous TheMail and get daily updates on the general scene in DC, always looking for RheeGate stories. Today he has some doozies, including Candi's post that I referred to this morning, but I am including it again anyway.

Gary makes the very important connection about the union election - if Nathan Saunders wins it is a big loss for Rhee and may be the stake driven through her heart that will send her back to Sacramento to defend her fiance against any further charges by female students at the charter school he runs. One of the interesting sidelights is: who is Randi Weingarten rooting for in the election? George Parker who Rhee prefers or Saunders? Bet your pension she would take the Rhee/Parker team in a heart beat as a Saunders victory is a harbinger of bigger troubles that might be coming down for her AFT stewardship from other urban centers under attack by the Ed Deformers while local AFT/Unity Caucus type affiliates remain humble and crumble in their path.

Alan Assarsson delves into the dangers of private funding of and its impact on public policy, one of the more effective pieces I've seen. Here are a few extracts for people who don't read these things through (shame).

This insertion of private dollars into the DCPS budget calculations has inherent problems that need to be studied closely. The conditions placed by these foundations for their continued financial support not only impact our schools, but directly inject themselves into our city’s electoral process that will focus on education issues more than any other election in recent times.

These foundations may not be citizens of the District of Columbia, but they still may have an effective vote in our election.


by accepting conditional money, we also inviting upon ourselves the unacceptable dilemma of having to choose between educational priorities that we determine are in the best interests of our children and the divergent priorities of private foundations

the four foundations (Broad, Arnold, Walton, and Robertson) have been funding only public charter school alternatives, and have not supported labor unions that would represent teachers or administrators...

May 2, 2010

Fatal Flaws

Dear Flawless Correspondents:

It’s almost time to write my “told you so” column, crowing about how I saw Michelle Rhee’s fatal flaw years ago, before anyone else wrote about how she would self-destruct as Chancellor. Almost time, but not yet. Her fatal flaw, or at least one of them, is one she shares with Mayor Fenty — an inability to work with anyone else, to collaborate, to consult. Instead, she and he both insist that everyone else must follow them and their plans, and do so at full speed without taking the time to think, to consider, to read, or to question the wisdom of those plans. That flaw was evident again at last Friday’s council hearing into the DC Public Schools budget, when both Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi and Rhee testified.

Gandhi, who epitomizes collaboration and consultation, and who is gentlemanly to a fault, said that he could not certify that the contract Rhee negotiated with the Washington Teachers Union was fiscally sound because of the restrictions on the grant agreements with the foundations funding it. But he said that he was working with the Chancellor, and that he was sure she would identify savings within the DCPS budget to make up the shortfall. Skeptical councilmembers pressed him on where those savings would come from, on what they were, and Gandhi kept saying that Rhee was working with him and that he was sure they were making progress. Finally, he was asked directly whether Rhee had presented any budget savings to him at all to that date, and he had to admit she hadn’t. Then Councilmember David Catania, aggressively pursuing the mayor’s agenda of shifting all blame to the CFO’s office for “miscommunication” between Rhee and the CFO, kept asking the current Chief Financial Officer for DCPS, George Dines, if he had any written communication proving that he pressed Rhee for more access to DCPS decisions and decisionmakers. Catania got increasingly accusatory until Dines pulled from his files an exchange of E-mails in which he had asked to attend the chancellor’s senior staff meetings and was rebuffed and told he would be invited when he was wanted. Gandhi and his assistants testified for four hours without having been sworn in; when Rhee and her subordinates stepped up to testify, they were immediately sworn it. That says volumes about who the councilmembers trust, and whom they don’t. The other remarkable revelation last week was that the city was now attempting to renegotiate its agreements with the private foundations that have agreed to finance some of the costs of the teachers’ contracts. The city’s negotiator is not Chancellor Rhee or any of her staffers; not the Deputy Mayor for Education, Victor Reinoso, who does not seem to have any other job duties these days; not even Mayor Fenty, who claims that education is his top job priority but does nothing to prove it other than to show up for photo opportunities for construction projects. No, said the city’s contumacious Attorney General, Peter Nickles, he claimed he is doing the negotiations, because of course school contracts fit within his job responsibilities.

Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, who likes and admires Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has written a remarkable column that explains why Rhee is more of a problem than a solution for DC’s schools, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/dc-schools/smoke-and-mirrors-in-dc-school-1.html#more. For everyone who is sick and tired of reading my tirades over the past three years about why she would turn out this way, take the time to read the lament of a disappointed supporter. “So what have we got? A powerhouse of a superintendent who is bent on doing whatever she thinks she has to do to achieve her goals. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to understand — still — that reforms only work when the people who have to implement them are on board. She can make bold pronouncements and she can start all kinds of new programs. But if she keeps damaging her own credibility, it is not likely that she will be in the city for the very long term to see that the reforms are put in place.” And Robert McCartney breaks his long streak of uncritical praise of Rhee with a column today acknowledging a few of her faults, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/01/AR2010050102974.html; and says, “Writing this is a comedown for me.”

But it’s not yet time for me to crow. That will have to wait a month or two. Because Rhee has promoted the contract as her signature achievement, she has made it into a referendum on her. That has shifted the balance of power, and for the first time given power to teachers over her. If they don’t approve of the contract, if they vote against it, that will be a vote of no confidence in her and make it almost certain that she will find an excuse to leave office. And there’s not as much to vote for in the contract as press accounts make it seem. Teachers’ jobs are still at risk, at the whim of an arbitrary and vengeful administration; their raises are not as guaranteed and secure as they have been described; those raises have been purchased at the cost of the jobs of their fellow teachers who were fired last October; and the much-touted “performance bonuses” are illusory, will-o’-the-wisp promises. Moreover, when the teachers vote between the current president of their local, George Parker, and his opponent in the election, Nathan Saunders, who said all along that Rhee couldn’t be trusted, it will be a second teacher referendum on Rhee. The third referendum will come over a longer time period, when the economy improves and there are better job options both for current DCPS teachers and for the inexperienced teachers whom Rhee prefers (and who are taking the jobs now because they can’t get work in their preferred professions). Who will want to work for Michelle Rhee at DCPS then?

Gary Imhoff

Read the other stories at Norms Notes More From TheMail in DC

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