Rhee in Denver: Media to Blame for Teachers' Contract Holdup
NYC schools chief Joel Klein introduces the Rev. Al Sharpton today at the Denver Art Museum as Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee look on.
DENVER--Funny thing about D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. The media seem to love her (or at least they are fascinated by her hard-charging managing style); PBS followed her for a series during her first year. Newsweek is planning a cover story.
But Rhee does not seem to love the media.
Today, she and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty appeared with NYC Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer and the Rev. Al Sharpton for panel discussions on education reform. The panel discussions were heavy on "special interest" bashing (i.e. the teachers' union, special education lawyers and so on), and the panelists mostly hailed each other for being tough, reform-minded mold breakers.
But Rhee woke up the room when she railed on the "media" for wrecking her collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union. She has offered the union a new merit pay contract that would allow teachers to opt into a plan that could pay them a lot more money if they relinquish their seniority rights. The contract has been extraordinarily controversial with some teachers supporting it, but others angrily denouncing the plan.
Panel moderator Jonathan Alter, a Newsweek columnist, asked Rhee where the negotiations stood.
"We have not rolled out a tenative agreement yet. We were very close to doing so and then the media got in our way a little bit. That caused us some problems," Rhee responded.
Alter looked surprised. "What do you mean by that?" he followed up.
"Well, I do think it's a signficant problem for us," Rhee said firmly. "The media reported incorrect information about the contract and what that did was just raise all these alarm bells among the rank and file who started to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the teachers' union president; when he was ready to roll it out, he took a step back. So it's been a hard road over the last few weeks."
(Click on the jump to read the rest of her comments.)
Rhee continued: "But we know now we're at the point we have to either fish or cut bait. We put our last offer on the table. They can either choose to accept that or reject that. If they don't, we've got a Plan B teed up and ready to go. The bottom line is that we have to hold the adults in this system accountable for producing results for children no matter what. I would like to pay teachers more and reward them; if I can't do that, then I will find other ways to do that."
When D.C. Wire caught up with Rhee afterward, as she rushed out of the event before it ended to catch a flight back to Washington for the first day of school Monday, Rhee stood by her comments.
"I don't think the media should report on something from sources not willing to be named with incorrect information. I think that's incredibly detrimental," she said. Rhee added that she would enact "Plan B" in the next few weeks.
"I can't wait forever," she said. "We've got to move and I'm going to do so aggressively. If we can do it through this contract, great. If not, then I've got a Plan B."
Asked to elaborate so the media would not mess up the reporting on Plan B, Rhee declined to provide more details.
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