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Rhee turns to White House veteran Anita Dunn

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, whose image has been battered by a series of high-profile controversies, is turning to a veteran of the Obama White House to help her with communications strategy. DCPS confirmed Friday that it is negotiating a contract with former White House communications director and veteran Democratic media consultant Anita Dunn.

Officials say Rhee hopes to use Dunn and her firm, Squier Knapp Dunn, to deal with the crush of press attention she receives both locally and nationally, and to assist in rolling out important stories to maximum strategic advantage. Officials would not specify what projects Dunn would work on, but she is expected to help on the unveiling of the long-awaited labor contract between the District and Washington Teachers' Union, which could be finalized in the next few weeks.

"We hope to get her wisdom and advice on how to handle things," said Marrianne McMullen, chief of staff to Peggy O'Brien, Rhee's chief of community outreach. "She has incredible experience."

McMullen said the contract will be paid for with private funds.

Dunn is a veteran of numerous national and local campaigns, including Obama's 2008 race and Bill Bradley's 2000 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. She was also a long time adviser to former Senate Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle.

She left her White House Post, which she took on an interim basis, last November. Dunn was perhaps best known during her tenure there for attacking Fox News as "a wing of the Republican Party." She is married to White House counsel Bob Bauer.

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By Bill Turque  |  March 19, 2010; 3:16 PM ET
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Why are we spending money on this?

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | March 19, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

The idea that a school district NEEDS a media consultant says it all

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 19, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh, sorry...hit the submit button too quickly...I see it says private funds will be used. So, why would anybody spend money on this?

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | March 19, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

"So, why would anybody spend money on this?"

I guess even Miss Rhee sees the gloss is off the apple.

Another question would be who giving her the money?
Federal City?

Posted by: edlharris | March 19, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Why should a public entity be used to promote a private agenda?

"stories for maximum strategic advantage" seems to me to be stories that promote this privitization, charter school movement.

why is DCPS always a pawn for things like this? GW Bush gave DC untold millions to be the voucher guinea pig. now we have Chavous whining all over for more vouchers.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 19, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Is Rhee using our education tax money for this instead of on our childern? If so--- another reason for her to go-- maybe the last straw!

Posted by: jmfromdc | March 19, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Who is the source of the private money?

Posted by: jlp19 | March 19, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Come on folks. Any organization in any high-profile effort gets smart counsel to make sure what they are saying is getting thru, especially given the onslaught here. Plus, even those of us who know the Chancellor is doing the right thing would say communication is not her strongest suit. And it clearly says private dollars are being used here.

Finally, a little perspective on what she's up against. In the interest of fairness, it would be useful to know why and how the Washington Teachers Union spent $443,565 on advertising and promotion in FY2008. This is according to their FY2008 Form 990 submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, according to the nonpartisan Guidestar. And it is not immediately discernable how much professional communications support is being provided by the national federation of teachers, but let's guess "enormous."

Ths is a non-story unless we -- here in Washington of all places -- are shocked SHOCKED! that people are trying to think about how best to get a message out on policy issues.

Posted by: mtp2009 | March 19, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

In the interest of full disclosure, how much "private money" have and what are the sources and what is it being used for?

Posted by: almelbe | March 19, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

DC schools get involved in this kind of stuff because they are in the nation's capital. She seems to get a lot of press here and national attention as well. Her image so far seems to be anti-teacher and business like. She is probably good at administration, but her PR is awful.

The whole broom thing was offensive and then saying that the laid off teachers abused kids. (some may have, but not many and that was dishonest). She is a blunt, tell it like she sees it, kind of person and she blurts out something dumb because she is really focusing on trying to run a school district in a place with a bad track record.
Before she got there I remember reading that DC schools didn't have books at the beginning of the year and that the buildings were in disrepair. Is that kind of administrative stuff cleared up?

She has a tough personality and I think she doesn't mind the controversy, but maybe she sees how her image is having a negative effect on the district. As a teacher, she might be o.k. to work for, but she comes across as intolerant and sort of dictatorial. That might be great if she is actually improving things and getting rid of bad teachers. Only the teachers working there now can tell us if she is making things better or worse and I doubt they feel like they can speak out.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 19, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Ths is a non-story unless we -- here in Washington of all places -- are shocked SHOCKED! that people are trying to think about how best to get a message out on policy issues.

A public schol should not be using private money to promote agendas

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 19, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Isn't this part of the whole charter school thing? Don't charter schools advertise? Maybe more districts will have to advertise in order to compete? Or is that a separate issue?

Posted by: celestun100 | March 19, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Boy, the Rhee fans must be truly worried. DCPS claims they will use private funds perhaps from Federal City and other non-residents to help boost this sorry excuse for a school leader. How about getting some private funds to put materials into the schools where many teachers are still lacking supplies.

If she is doing the right thing for DCPS, why would she need a communication specialist? It is silly to blame the WTU for Rhee’s problems as the current WTU leadership is in her pocket.

Also, Ms. Rhee is always claiming she is using private funds and we know that speaking the truth is not one of her best attributes.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | March 19, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I think there's already a communications office so why hire this woman? How much will this cost? Why does Rhee keep focusing nationally when she was hire to fix problems locally? It seems that we are, once again, a stepping stone.

If private money is available for this, is there private money to pay for things like language teachers, art classes, gifted and talented programs?

Posted by: dcparkmom | March 19, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

It sounds like mpt2009's speech above is the first salvo of Rhee's privately funded PR effort.

Be looking for more Rhee supporters in these comments sections, chiding people who even dare to think that a school leader with plummeting poll numbers hiring a media consultant isn't just the most noble thing she could do for THE CHILDREN.

Posted by: efavorite | March 19, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

efav.: sorry to see u've sunk into cynicism and make light of Rhee's working primarily for the children. who's your top-ranked stakeholder in all this? she ain't helping her career by any of her battles, is she? nor helping Adrian's re-election.
dccounselor72: pls try to rise above name-calling and labeling, eh?

Posted by: axolotl | March 19, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Again - who is the source of the money?

And as someone else mentioned - how much being spent?

Posted by: jlp19 | March 19, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

to axolotl
your comment about name calling is a joke. You attack others on a regular basis and feel justified because you support all things Rhee.

Rhee does not need to hire a communication specialist because she has you.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | March 19, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

At this point, Rhee's career is a complete salvage operation. And someone thinks it's so important that she survive that they have put up big cash for a media consultant to save her from herself.

Why? How bad have things gotten? What do they know that's coming down the pike that they have to cover for?

Posted by: efavorite | March 19, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Why is this necessary? Because the "experts" who have been entrenched at the trough created by previous school boards are POed that they are not getting their cash. These cows have been cut off. Campaign season is ramping up. Vince Gray is out for blood as he prepares for his last chance at the top job.

Rhee focused on doing the job for the CHILDREN. Vince Gray and the teachers union have focused on upstaging the mayor and working for ADULTS who are used to feeding at the trough.

Unfortunately, top jobs in DC do require more political and communication support to survive than these same jobs in other similar sized cities.

What has happened since Fenty took over the schools and installed Rhee? Necessary but politically tough decisions to close schools have been made and implemented. Schools are opening on time with books. Buildings are staying open with toilets that work, ceilings that aren't falling in, bathrooms and lockerrooms without standing water, working AC, and working heat systems! WOW!!!!

What needs work? Parents. Does any school system have the answer to that? Dropout rates. Test scores. Reading and math skills. All these improvements take time. To get that time, adding professional communications skills to the mix to fend off politically motivated attacks from candidates running for mayor, and bitter screamers who are looking at empty troughs is, unfortunately, needed at this time.

Posted by: streff | March 19, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Nice talking points, streff, are you on the payroll too?

"Buildings are staying open with toilets that work, ceilings that aren't falling in, bathrooms and lockerrooms without standing water, working AC, and working heat systems! WOW!!!!"

and none of this is Rhee’s doing - it's Alan Lews, he’s the buildings guy. Rhee doesn't have that responsibility. Didn't you now that Streff? or did you know that and are just hoping that we'll all forget that?

So according to your spin, poor chancellor Rhee has to hire a media consultant to remake her image because big bad Vince Gray (whose hearing provide the only forum in which kids, parents and teachers actually get heard) is holding her back. Rhee has all the power and Vince has none and Rhee needs private funding in order to fight off big bad Vince.

You guys are really desperate.

Posted by: efavorite | March 19, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

I am SO SICK of Rhee supporters (and I'm a former) including HER IN THE RENOVATED BUILDINGS!!! This is pure propoganda -- facilities: Allen Lew. Quick response to facilities issues: Mayoral control/Lew. Rhee gets credit for better administration, as in papers/electronic flow, timely materials, all shamefully behind with past administrations. Much is due to the freedom that came simultaneous to full power by the Mayor, much to her business acumen. As for improvement in schools and test scores, we're all being taken for a big ride. Years in to DCPS, and with one leg out the door to private, Rhee's team has a good hard/fast rule: When the outspoken, rational, often middle class parent leadership begin to make demands show them the door ...quietly. The seats will alwyas be filled by the voiceless and poor majority who have no other options. Hardy MS is just the latest example.

Posted by: modern1 | March 19, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Another question is how much is Ms. Dunn going to be paid?
I'm sure someone reading this must have an idea.

And would this expenditure violate any DC government ethics laws or policies?
Is it subject to sunshine laws?

Posted by: edlharris | March 20, 2010 1:36 AM | Report abuse

edlharris - Are you kidding? It probably cost $12,000 just to come up with the clever line: "Communication is not her strongest suit."

Posted by: efavorite | March 20, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Efavorite (and anyone), that's a good one.
If one searchs for Squier Knapp Dunn, you will find a number of state election reports where you see SKD earns a pretty penny.

This blog has also appeared as a regular report:

As I noted there, hiring SKD might have more to do with winning RTTT money, the success of which will make Michelle Rhee's star shine brightly like a supernova.

But, Isn't it ironic that Michelle Rhee needs a private donor to give her money to pay a media consultant to neutralize the words of a teenager calling her Dolores Umbridge.

Posted by: edlharris | March 20, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Actually, this seems to be a pretty smart move on the part of Rhee and Fenty. It is the beginning of a major political campaign. At the moment Rhee is not an asset to Fenty and could prove to be a major liability to his campaign which is not without some other serious threats. The timing is perfect. Polishing her up only helps to make the mayor shine in a critical period in his career.

Posted by: highquality4kids | March 20, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Oh, you're absolutely right, highquality4kids - the timing is not an accident - and it has nothing to do with helping children.

by the way, there's now a full print article on this subject on page one of the metro section and here:

Posted by: efavorite | March 20, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Looking at some of the money that was paid out to Squier Knapp Dunn for political campaigns, I must remark that it would cover quite a lot of the DC Scholarship voucher program.
I wonder if Jo-Ann and Fred will criticize that expenditure of money.

Posted by: edlharris | March 20, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Things would not be so bad for her if she had (1) turned on her desk lamp and stayed from under the spotlight (2) gone to the office instead of the radio, TV studios, the next magazine interview and (3) stayed off the front covers of national magazines promoting herself. So the damage control is a result of numerous self inflicted wounds.

Free advice although too late: When in public, place a band-aide on lips to keep lies in and foot out of mouth, take two aspirins and practice how to shut up.

To DCPS Communications: As a group, go to happy hour and then dust off your resumes. With a move like this and more cuts coming, you may have just been dubbed useless.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 21, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Question- Is Ms. Dunn Rhee’s personal media consultant?

Although the Union has spent $443K on advertising, Rhee and Fenty have gotten free press courtesy of the Washpo and other outlets for three years.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | March 22, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I am sensing once she becomes the married woman of a politician...she will need to be less visible. Soon , she will be Mrs. Michelle Rhee-Johnson the wife of the Mayor of Sacramento and then referred to as the Chancellor of DCPS. Henceforth, another honeymoon period will begin for the media-darling to use it to her advantage.

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 22, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

posted by dcparkmomI think there's already a communications office so why hire this woman? How much will this cost? Why does Rhee keep focusing nationally when she was hire to fix problems locally? It seems that we are, once again, a stepping stone.

Right you are! At some point Michelle Rhee will move on-DC is a stepping stone in her political and financial backers' plans to wreck public education and substitute charter schools and for profit tutoring services that are the darlings of the privately educated Secretary of Education and Bill Gates.

Posted by: sanderling5 | March 22, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Just because someone on a message board gives a dollar amount for advertising, don't believe it unless you check it yourself though an official public source (not provided by the person who made the original claim)

Also keep in mind that unions are advocacy groups operating on dues money from members while public schools are government agencies operating on by tax money from all citizens.

Posted by: efavorite | March 22, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

sanderling5--er, the Chancellor is not focusing nationally. The media and other educators found her. After all, this is the Nation's Capital, and it has had a famously badly performing school system for decades. Rhee was hired to turn it around and has met major opposition from many teachers, the union, a small set of hyper-parents who can't see the big picture (but that is fine). A sad, but "good" story. Stepping stone? Rhee's pledged to stay here as long as seven years, in one comment a couple of years ago. Can you imagine how rough it is to be pounded and called a racist day after day--by a minority of parents and other carping stakeholders? What she is doing is really sacrificing her career and her medium-term professional fulfillment by doing this thankless job. You wouldn't trust this to an "educator" of the many types that have caused this mess.

Posted by: axolotl | March 25, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

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