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Posted at 11:00 PM ET, 04/16/2010

Rhee and the confounding mess in D.C. schools

By Valerie Strauss

Enough already.

Somebody has to intervene fast to figure out who is going to be paid what, and how, in D.C. schools before the budgeting process becomes a comic farce. Some would say it already is.

Is there a $34 million surplus in the D.C. public schools budget?

Is there not?

Who said there is?

Who says there isn’t?

Mayor Adrian Fenty, whose signature initiative, school reform, under the chancellor he appointed, Michelle Rhee, seems to be lurching from one controversy to another, should bring together the parties involved to sort this all out--fast. His reelection bid later this year could be affected.

Rhee seems to be in a slugfest with Fenty’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, over how much money there is in the budget to pay teachers.

Earlier this week I thought things couldn’t get much more ridiculous when Rhee landed in hot water with teachers--again--just when it seemed like she had climbed out.

Rhee had reached a historic contract agreement with teachers, who have been angry with her since she came three years ago with a broom and a take-no-prisoners attitude about reform.

Things escalated last year when she laid off 266 teachers because, she said, there was a budget deficit. Teachers protested but a judge sided with Rhee.

When the contract--which required compromise on both sides--was announced, it seemed as if she was starting on a fresh relationship with teachers. Then, earlier this week, Rhee told the council that, in fact, there was not a deficit after all but a surplus, and that’s how teacher salary increases would be paid.

Au contraire, Gandhi said in a letter Thursday to Rhee that essentially says she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He was “incredulous,” he wrote, that she told the council there was a surplus because, he said, there isn’t.

Gandhi, being the city’s chief financial expert, seems to have more credibility on his side in this argument. But because school and city officials are not exactly transparent about where money comes and goes, it’s hard to know exactly what is going on.

It seems that nobody has an authoritative handle on the budget, and that raises big questions about how Rhee sets her priorities and funds local schools.

If, in fact, Rhee has been operating on faulty assumptions about how much money she has to work with and how much teachers are paid, we don’t really know if schools have been getting what they should be receiving.

Budgeting issues have plagued Rhee since she became chancellor in 2007. That was the year the Fenty administration paid $4 million to consultants to find savings and re-prioritize spending in the school system.

In less than a year, Rhee was seeking more money for schools, raising questions among education advocates about how she was spending funds. Advocates complained that budget details were kept secret and that Rhee sometimes made conflicting statements about how money would be spent.

And so, here we are again, with Rhee in the middle of a budget controversy that threatens the pact she reached with the teachers.

I don’t know anybody who wants Rhee to fail in her effort to improve D.C. schools, but if she can’t keep herself out of this kind of trouble, it’s hard to see how she can be really successful.

If Fenty wants to keep his reform effort alive, he has to find a way to get this fixed, fast.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 16, 2010; 11:00 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  chancellor rhee and budget, d.c. schools and budget, d.c. schools and rhee, gandhi's letter, gandhi's letter to rhee, michelle rhee, rhee and budget, rhee and gandhi  
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Comments

Rhee seems to be in a slugfest with Fenty’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, over how much money there is in the budget to pay teachers.

So far Ms Rhee has victimized people who are powerless to fight back, classic bully behavior. Now she has picked a fight with someone her own size and it aint so easy

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 16, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi W Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I simply don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi Weingarten Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM (other than Rhee)?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I simply don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi Weingarten Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM (other than Rhee)?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi W Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi W Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi W Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

"I don’t know anybody who wants Rhee to fail in her effort to improve D.C. schools"

Really, Valerie, She's already failed. She's a miserable failure.

The only way to improve DC schools is to get Rhee out. Otherwise the turmoil will continue. It will be more drama for the drama queen and lots for material for journalists, but really -- what about the children?

Posted by: efavorite | April 16, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

This article is a "confounding mess." First, Rhee has clearly failed in her effort to reform schools. Where is the evidence that any of her reforms have worked or improved the schools? I simply don't understand your comment.

Second, I am "confounded" that this article and others calls the proposed "contract" historic and that it is the "start of a fresh relationship with teachers."

Did anyone at the post actually read or at least skim the contract? Or, did the post, as usual, rely solely on the information provided by the chancellor? Does anyone do primary research anymore?

The contract was not negotiated by or include the input of teachers. As has been well reported, the contract is the result of 4 people: Rhee, George Parker, Kurt Schmoke, Randi Weingarten Pres of AFT. So, please be more specific. We do not yet know what teachers think of it.

More importantly, the contract has several very troubling areas. (1) there is a "Sufficient Funds" article that says that all parties recognize that all provisions of the agreement are subject to the availability of funds and we all agree that no one can be held responsible for these funds. DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE? ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THIS NEW BUDGET DEFICIT TURNED SURPLUS TURNED 30 Mill OVERSPENT BY RHEE'S CENTRAL OFFICE.
(2) among other things, the contract says that teachers do not have to be given written copies of their observations until the end of the school year AND they don't have to be given a written copy of their final evaluation until September 30 of the NEXT SCHOOL YEAR! How can teachers be protected against abuse when they don't even get a copy of their evaluations until it is too late! UNBelievable.
(3) there is not a single detail about the Pay for Performance that is so "historic" in the contract EXCEPT that it is still to be developed. No numbers, no parameters, nothing. Nothing about teaching in a high needs school, etc. SO HOW YOU CAN REPORT ON IT? WHERE DID YOUR INFORMATION COME FROM (other than Rhee)?

Thanks Washpost for so clearly reporting the facts! Scrap wikipedia, now I know that if I want the facts, I can just ask Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: mfalcon | April 16, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

"But because school and city officials are not exactly transparent about where money comes and goes, it’s hard to know exactly what is going on."

The problem as stated above is the biggest issue with the whole Fenty Administration.

The jig is up! Rhee et al have tainted all possible chance of developing any trustful relationship with the teachers, parents and other stakeholders (except the business interested in funding the takeover of DC education).

Posted by: thelildiva4u | April 16, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

mfalcon----Let know what you think of this article. I'm dying to know.

Posted by: aed3 | April 16, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

aed3 - the repetitious posts are a server error -- it happened over at Turque's blog too - by Turque!

Posted by: efavorite | April 16, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Why don't you just come out and say RHEE MUST GO!

Posted by: oknow1 | April 16, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Wow! I just can't wait for the excuses the editorial board is going to make for this!

Posted by: resc | April 17, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

This line stands out from Michelle Rhee's letter to Mr. Gandhi:
"We are looking forward to moving this historic contract forward beginning with fiscal certification."

I see the "forward " line has been picked up by Jo-Ann Armao.

Posted by: edlharris | April 18, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Another WP writer trying to cover Rhee's behind.

She is a failure in all areas except lying, promoting herself and putting down teachers.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | April 18, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

No more EXCUSES!! JUST SOLUTIONS!!!
Enough is Enough, Rhee MUST GO!!!
When?? NOW!!!!

Our DCPS students and parents deserve a Superintendent who is certified, competent, qualified and fiscal responsible.

VOTE "NO" to the WTU Tentative Agreement. Read Section 40.2...Unbelievable.

Posted by: sheilahgill | April 19, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse

I am not a teacher, so I won't say vote yes or no, but I fail to understand what is "unbelievable" about section 40.2 unless one reads it in a vacuum unrelated to the other provisions around it. Section 40.3 (yes, the next paragraph) specifically states that "DCPS agrees to provide financial certification that DCPS can meet the obligations of this contract before moving toward final approval. The parties agree that the failure to provide the funds to meet the obligations of the Agreement pertaining to base salary, benefits . . . is a material breach of contract by DCPS. The consequences of that breach will be settled by a court or an arbitrator, unless otherwise negotiated by the Parties."

So, arguing that the contract should be voted down because of 40.2 means you think
-DCPS is incorrect about having the money (I guess I could see your point there)
-a CFO certification that the money is there isn't valid
-DCPS is willing to immediately breach the contract it just took three years to negotiate
-after breaching the contract, a judge or arbitrator would side with DCPS and allow them to not pay the raises.

Posted by: horacemann | April 19, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is an amateur in way over her head.
While it is politically expedient to dump on teachers these days, this latest debacle shows that Michelle has no clue of how to administer a school system. What makes good teachers is not determined by Michelle's whims. Passion for one's job, education in one's subject, and the ability to self-reflect are important, as are class size and administrative support.
Michelle's "leadership" is not collaborative; it is based on fear.
This incident confirms that her attacks on teachers were based on mere caprices.

Posted by: jalepeno4 | April 19, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

So Central office overspent by 30 million---that's about $600 per DC student. Every DC Student could have had a laptop just like children in the suburbs, Or central office could have purchased International Bacheloriate or other proven accelerated curriculum for tens of thousands of children and paid for their teachers to have extensive professional development to implement it well. DCPS could have renovated an empty building and established a STEM Middle school or World Studies Program to prepare students for careers in math, science or foreign affairs...the possibilities are endless and the missed opportunities for DC students are just heartbreaking. When do all of the children in this city become a real priority rather than political footballs to be kicked around for the convenience of brash opportunists?

A parent of a DC middle schooler.

Posted by: janetcamillebrown | April 20, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

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