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Fenty to Mayors: School Boards Have No Purpose

Mayors from across the country were in town today for a conference, including a seminar on education reform. Not surprisingly, Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and D.C. school Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee were among the speakers on the panel, continuing a series of national platforms --Democratic National Convention in Denver, National Action Network in Memphis, TIME magazine cover story -- for the duo to boast about their strategy in taking control of the District's schools.

Fenty led off by detailing how he moved aside the local Board of Education when he took office and how he hired Rhee after getting a recommendation from New York City schools boss Joel Klein. Anticipating that his fellow mayors might ask about the political blowback of such moves, Fenty said: "People ask me as mayor, wasn't it politically risky? I think politics has changed in this country. The politically popular thing is to challenge the status quo and take on the school board's entrenched ways."

Fenty went on to talk about Rhee's collective bargaining stalemate with the Washington Teachers' Union and her attempt to break the old model of tenure with a new performance pay model that would also weed out bad teachers.

"Whether it's the school board or unions, people want them to get out of the way of the chancellor and allow her to do things," Fenty said. He was then asked by moderator Kevin Johnson, the former Phoenix Suns basketball star-turned mayor of Sacramento, what advice he would give other mayors.

"Get rid of the school board. Just do it. They have no purpose anymore," Fenty said, drawing chuckles from his colleagues. Fenty added: "At least in urban education."

Rhee followed by lavishing praise on her boss for clearing the way for her by taking the political heat for some of her more controversial decisions, such as closing 23 schools last year.

"If you want to be the least popular person in the city, close one school, much less 23," Rhee said. "We went through that process and the mayor did not blink once. ... He has shielded me by running interference in the politics. He doesn't want me spending my time meeting with the council and ANCs and playing politics. He wants me running the school system."

By David A Nakamura  |  March 31, 2009; 1:06 PM ET
Categories:  Education  
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As long as he isn't giving advice on how to run a Summer Youth Jobs Program, fine.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | March 31, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

The District does have a school board, with a different role. Why, on earth, would a Mayor purposely CREATE conflict where conflict didn't exist? Why was that statement even necessary? What is a fact about the D.C. School Board is that they are ELECTED by the people. This is the same way that this Administration sees the Council. "Just get rid of them..." of course our current council would likely lay down and just let him do it.

Perhaps, this is a call for the previously elected Board President/ D.C. City Administrator Robert Bobb to launch an exploratory committee for the executive chair in the District. The Fenty Machine is making all the right arrogant mistakes to loose this one.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | March 31, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

So if Rhee is not meeting or dealing with the high power political stakeholders, it means she should be available to schools and parents, the true stakeholders. I wonder if the schools and PTAs would have the same sentiment.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 31, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

As a taxpayer, I'd like Michelle Rhee to be "running the school system," too. But she responds to just about every parent e-mail, no matter how trivial the complaint. This not only obliterates the principal's control of a school, it is a complete waste of her time.

What happened to the Ombudsman, who was supposed to respond to parent concerns?

Posted by: trace1 | March 31, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

If they wanted Rhee and Fenty, could they not find anyone else to moderate? Choosing Johnson makes the whole thing seem like a joke, no wait... a date.

Posted by: jrp2 | March 31, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Oh no Mr. Fenty, there should be a school board. Why? Because it keeps egomaniacs like you from having a single handed dictatorship.

Posted by: starclimber9 | March 31, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Fenty can kiss my grits. Fenty can run his administration, but the parents are responsible for electing represntatives to address their views, through this venue of representation.

Fenty is a Napoleonic, command and control freak, who is seeking to control everything in his town.

Certain things are above your paygrade and if being commander-in-chief of the school district is neither yours nor other any other Mayors responsibility.

Buzz-off Fenty, villagrosa (Los Angeles), and get your own house in control, before you start casting stones at others.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | March 31, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

At the rate he's going, we'll see the following headline in November 2010:

DC Voters to Fenty: You Have No Purpose

Posted by: jcbcmb68 | March 31, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Um, first rule of politics: know who is in charge.

The school board is obviously useless if it isn't in charge, and it isn't actually running the schools.

Fentys' comment makes perfect sense. In D.C. Whether it makes sense for other cities is yet to be seen.

Posted by: dubya19391 | March 31, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, you disgust me and I will never cast a vote for you, not even for Dog catcher.

Posted by: Ward4DC | March 31, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Mayor Johnson’s election is for the most part – a public relations success based upon the failures of Sacramento prior Mayor’s inability to perform his responsibility to his voter base. It is the fact that Public Charter Schools and Sacramento’s current Mayor, Kevin Johnson who holds greater popularity as a successful athlete than discredited Sacramento public schools administrators.

The same can be said for California’s Gray Davis, where Arnold Swartzenegger (a great people person) succeeded in reducing Davis’s property tax levies which in hind sight Davis had significant insight, but not popular support. Nothing has changed other than the state debt and its current financial insolvency.

Relating to this article:
Several educators and one engineer in many ways express the dilemmas facing the changes in the Administrations in teaching and the Unionism that services its own interest raising Mayor Fenty’s and Chancellor Rhee’s very questionable statements and integrity in David Nakamura’s report.

Mayor Fenty’s statements as quoted are deplorable, in that Fenty take singular authority for changes needed in D.C.’s deplorable Publics Schools system. Chancellor Rhee, rather disingenuous at best, makes frivolous congratulatory acclamation to effect D.C.’s unending contrary policies which have not increased any child’s grade point average nor increased D.C. Public Schools dwindling student enrollments. A the rise in public favor for D.C. Charter Schools, which statistically and numerically per-capita student current out perform D.C. Public Schools.

D.C. Mayor Fenty is certainly not popular among the residents an longer, and Rhee has yet to demonstrate any benefit – other than contrite misleading amorisms and outright pandering to completely false allegories of her credibility as an educator as of this report.

As of today, D.C. Public Schools have no real substantive achievement and a lot less than nothing to brag about in Sacramento. Certainly no changes in mismanaging “modeled” Public Schools facility per-student funding according to

The glowing Mayor Fenty in this article is a political performance at another expensive taxpayer expense, for Rhee this appears opportunism to a personal endeavor again at taxpayer expense.

Their statements, both, are disingenuous and inappropriate given that neither have represented their “foreign” opinion before the D.C. public and the D.C. City Council. Rather, the two reflect their inclination to create a fiction to those that have no merits to their voters at home.

Another wasteful example of politic at its worst.

Great report David, keep-up the good works.

Posted by: eglobegus | March 31, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

" He doesn't want me spending my time meeting with the council and ANCs and playing politics. He just wants me to run the schools." Well if the sorry council had any doubts that the real agenda was to get rid of the school board, the ANCs and the council itself, Rhee has emphatically proved to them what a mistake it was to allow her confirmation to take place without appropriately vetting her as a candidate. In two sentences, in the company of the NY bosses and her boyfriend, the message was, the council can kiss my azz. I guess his nominations to PERB suggest the same sentiment, his trips using a security detail(public money) and emergency resources being sent to the Dominican Republic not only tell the council that but the citizens can kiss his azz too! I caution MiserRhee to be careful. Mr. Johnson as we speak was reported to the Feds (as a matter of law)regarding the mismangement of Federal grant money related to St. Hope and as a result, his actions may or may not have an impact on the stimulus money for Sacramento. Funny how all the birds of a feather have stuck together. Johnson is as unpopular in Sacramento as Fenty is in DC. They are too young an stupid to understand that they are not Bloomberg and Joel Klein. Their lack of creativity, integrity and arrogance won't yield the same result as the NY mob. They have taken much for granted. Everytime they address the public, it's something negative relative to DC and how we function. Fenty, Rhee and Nickles are the biggest misrepresentations the District could ever have. I hope that the voters never forget. Even Bowser should be pissed at this. I hope the scandal comes sooner than later. Follow the money!!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | March 31, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

FENTY: "Whether it's the school board or unions, people want them to get out of the way of the chancellor and allow her to do things"

What he really means is - I've neutered the school board, if I can't do the same with the union, I'm screwed.

RHEE: “He doesn't want me spending my time meeting with the council and ANCs and playing politics. He wants me running the school system."

In other words, (and this is a direct quote from Rhee) "There's this crazy dynamic [at City Council meetings] where every agency head is kowtowing. They sit there and get beat down. I'm not going to sit on public TV and take a beating I don't deserve. I don't take that crap.” ( 8/7/08)

Also she means - If I'm going to play politics, I'm going to do it on a national scale, not a local scale.

Posted by: efavorite | March 31, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Good point efavorite. Thanks for remembering that. Also Wasn't it Fenty who was the loudest protester of a mayoral takeover when Anthony Williams wanted to do it?

Posted by: candycane1 | March 31, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

jrp2: You are so right! Somebody better keep checks and balances on KJ. He's on a list that barrs him from a particular federal grant due to his misuse.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 31, 2009 11:38 PM | Report abuse

I guess DC is where KJ learned all about being a mayor. He too tried to ignore the City Council and just weeks after taking office tried to push an initiative through to have a "strong mayor" system in Sacramento. The citizens of Sacramento pushed back, and he set the initiative aside "to concentrate on the budget", meaning he didn't get enough signatures in time for the June ballot. Sacramento City Unified School district just recently changed to a trustee district system instead of at large representation. Neighborhoods finally have a school board member who is responsible to them and accountable to them. No mayor would ever represent their interests in that way. Besides, how often does an incumbent mayor lose an election? Usually the powers that elected the mayor fight to keep him/her there. Unless you have a celebrity athlete running for office. God help Detroit. Meanwhile back in Sacramento we are stuck with an incompetent egomaniac for mayor.

Posted by: klenox | April 1, 2009 2:24 AM | Report abuse

KJ and Rhee are a well known "item" publicly. It is strange what pillow talk would propel a man to do.

In short, it appears she tells him to "do what my boss does" and like a good lap dog, he does it.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | April 1, 2009 6:17 AM | Report abuse

When Rhee says, "He doesn't want me spending my time meeting with the council and ANCs..." she means "He doesn't want me listening to anyone." He prefers dictatorship. That's why he thinks the school board is irrelevant. But the job of a mayor is not to play dictator: Let's hope the voters recognize this and vote him into irrelevancy in 2010!

Posted by: bluraccoon | April 1, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

"Fenty, Rhee and Nickles are the biggest misrepresentations the District could ever have. I hope that the voters never forget. Even Bowser should be pissed at this. I hope the scandal comes sooner than later. Follow the money!!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | March 31, 2009 8:41 PM"

Don't hold your breath waiting for Bowser to be pissed. She's a selective representative of the same stripe, carrying water for the developers.

Posted by: logosdesigns | April 1, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Not one post that is about real improvements in education in DC - seems clear why Fenty and Rhee are right for the job in this case since no one else can bother to be concerned about the capital of the "free world" having the most embarrassing education system in the country. While DC residents, board members, etc bicker about who has control, hopefully Rhee will be getting the job done.

Posted by: riazifamily | April 1, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of DC, this forum led by the boyfriend of the chancellor is a joke and an insult. When I read her boyfriend was a panelist, I stopped reading. This is not a serious group of people.

Posted by: sugarstreet | April 1, 2009 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Riazifamily, you point out that “Not one post that is about real improvements in education in DC” but fail to mention any yourself.

I’d say Fenty and Rhee are wrong for the job, because they are just celebrity grandstanders who have only made things worse.

It is truly an national embarrassment, and a personal one for me, because I enthusiastically supported both of them at the beginning.

Posted by: efavorite | April 2, 2009 6:00 AM | Report abuse

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