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Posted at 6:16 PM ET, 04/28/2010

Yes and no on D.C. teachers contract funding

By Valerie Strauss

Yes, the contract that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee negotiated with the Washington Teachers Union should be approved.

No, the city should not allow itself to become beholden to private foundations that have offered to donate $64.5 million to help pay for teachers' raises.

City and school officials should work with the foundations to create a system that can ensure that the work they are funding is carried on, even if Rhee does not stay in her job. If the foundations dig in and refuse, the city should find the money to pay for the contract.

According to my colleague Bill Turque, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has told District officials that he will not approve the contract unless Rhee and the man who hired her, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty find public funds to replace the donations from private foundations.

Earlier Turque reported that the private foundations that have promised to help pay teacher salaries reserve the right to reconsider their combined $64.5 million pledge if lthe school system's leadership changes.

This comes in the middle of a D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray's political challenge to Fenty. Gray has said he won’t promise to keep Rhee if he becomes mayor, and has speculated that she might not want to stay on in his administration.

My colleague Jay Mathews wrote in his Class Struggle blog that Rhee is so indispensable to school reform that she should sign a new contract that would keep her in her job.

Though organizations like to operate on the notion that nobody is indispensable, some actually are. Projects and institutions can fall apart without the visionary--or the functionary--who keeps them going.

In this case, in these circumstances, it would be foolhardy for the city to declare that Rhee is indispensable. That is not to say I would like to see her leave. I wouldn’t. The city schools would be better off if Rhee stays and learns to be more forthcoming about what she is doing and when. Striking the contract with the teachers union was one sign that the chancellor can compromise.

But in no circumstance should private foundations be allowed to have any say in who runs the public school system in the nation’s capital.

The organizations that promised to donate the money, and then set the leadership condition, are the Walton Family Foundation. the Robertson Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

Certainly the foundations have a right to put conditions on money they donate. Foundations give many millions of dollars to education projects and schools, but, ordinarily, there isn’t a threat that the money will be lost if a particular person does not keep his/her job. This pledge is different, too, in that the money is part of a collective bargaining agreement.

It is understandable that Gandhi would refuse to accept a contract that includes money that could be pulled.

It would behoove everyone involved, Gandhi included, to work to find a way to fund the contract, perhaps without losing the foundation money.

After all, if the foundations really are concerned about helping D.C. school kids, they ought to give the money with no contingencies. If they are giving the money solely to further their own agendas, then the D.C. government doesn’t need to play along.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 28, 2010; 6:16 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  Chancellor Michelle Rhee, D.C. schools, D.C. teachers, D.C. teachers contract, d.c. teachers contract, foundations and teachers contract, private foundations and D.C. teachers contract, rhee and contract, rhee and gandi and contract, teachers contract, teachers contract and D.C., teachers contract in trouble  
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"The city schools would be better off if Rhee stays and learns to be more forthcoming about what she is doing and when. Striking the contract with the teachers union was one sign that the chancellor can compromise."

Dream on. She didn't compromise. She hid a supposed 34 million dollar surplus from the people she was negotiating with. She had a deal with private funders that would give her the very job security that she denies teachers.

Now she's scrambling to find $50,000 in city funds in two days. There’s always a trick with her. Please don’t tell me you’re falling for this one. What’s she’s learning is how she can cause chaos at the highest levels.

She’s had the Washington Post in an uproar, the city government in an uproar, the schools in an uproar and now the foundations in an uproar. She’s cracking the whip and everyone’s jumping. It’s an exciting show for her, but what about the children?

Posted by: efavorite | April 28, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, I'd like you to answer why you favor Rhee staying. I have been an educational professional for over 20 years and to be honest she seems rather in over her head on the details side of her job, and very interesting on the leadership side. Seriously, why?

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 28, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse

Neither side should sign any contract based on "the kindness of strangers" and "now you see it, now you don't " financial "plans".

Posted by: citizenw | April 29, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

They will find the money by raiding other DC agencies. Fenty and Rhee would sell their kids before they lose this contract deal.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | April 29, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

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