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DeMorning DeBonis: Oct. 14, 2010

TODAY IS OCT. 14, 2010 -- 19 DAYS UNTIL GENERAL ELECTION

PREVIOUSLY -- White House addresses Michelle Rhee's departure -- Michelle Rhee launches Web site, joins Facebook and Twitter

Michelle Rhee sent herself off to "serve the children of this nation" yesterday in what Tim Craig and Bill Turque rightly call a "carefully choreographed" news conference, leaving top deputy Kaya Henderson in her stead. But Tim and Bill reveal in their story today that one piece of the choreography -- the insistence that this was all done by "mutual decision" between Rhee and mayor-to-be Vincent Gray -- may not be all that accurate: "[T]wo people with knowledge of discussions between Gray and Rhee said that Rhee abruptly told Gray last week that she was resigning and wanted out of the job as soon as possible," forcing Gray to "act quickly to name an interim replacement." Rhee's spokeswoman Anita Dunn denies the claim. Aside from that messaging snafu, the Rhee-for-Henderson trade thus far is getting political plaudits locally: "By elevating Henderson and prevailing on the school system's senior leadership team to stay through the end of the school year, Gray has adopted a team hand-assembled by Rhee and infused with her reform ideas. ... Although Henderson is from New York, she has lived in Northeast Washington for several years and has built roots in the community. As an African American, she might also have an advantage in defusing some of the racial tensions that dogged Rhee." Also, Bill runs down Henderson's CV -- native of the New York suburbs, taught middle school Spanish in the South Bronx, a Teach for America loyalist, and someone with "extensive" roots in the city: "As a longtime resident of Ward 5, Henderson was active in community organizations and was visible at neighborhood establishments such as Colonel Brooks Tavern. Her holiday barbeques drew a cross section of neighbors and school community stakeholders." Says Harry Thomas Jr., a reliable Rhee foe: "She's a very personable, down-to-earth kind of person."

AFTER THE JUMP -- Exhaustive Rhee coverage and reaction

*** MAIN COURSE ***

HOYA SAXA -- From Bill and Tim: "Although Gray does not know Henderson well, his advisers said he has been impressed with her. She often met with council members when Rhee was unavailable. Gray's advisers said he had been eying her as a potential replacement before Rhee resigned. ... Several friends and confidants, including Gray's priest, have lobbied him in recent weeks, encouraging him to consider Henderson because of her personable and collaborative approach. 'I think her and Michelle share the very same agenda in terms of education reform, but unlike Michelle, she has a little more down-home approach for moving the ball down the court,' said the Rev. Raymond Kemp, a former parish priest and senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. He mentored Henderson when she was pursuing a bachelor's degree in international relations and a master's degree in leadership at the school in the early 1990s. Kemp said that on the night of the primary election, he and Henderson exchanged text messages about the possibility that Rhee would be leaving. He also reached out to Gray and urged him to consider Henderson."

SEVERANCE -- Rhee's severance package is still undetermined. Alan Suderman has the relevant portions of her contract: "In the event that your employment is terminated for any reasons other than (i) criminal conduct, (ii) gross dereliction of duty or (iii) gross misconduct, you shall be entitled to a severance payment of up to 12 weeks of your base salary, plus any accrued leave, as well as an additional 12 weeks of administrative leave. Additionally, should you choose to terminate your appointment for good cause, you will receive a payment of up to 12 weeks of your base salary, plus any accrued leave, as well as an additional 12 weeks of administrative leave." But what is "good cause"?

DUNCAN -- U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement: "Michelle Rhee has been a pivotal leader in the school reform movement and we expect she will continue to be a force for change wherever she goes. I commend D.C. leadership for choosing Kaya Henderson, Michelle's Deputy Chancellor, to run D.C. schools where she will continue implementing bold education reforms until a new Chancellor is appointed by the next mayor. I am especially pleased to see that Mayor [Adrian Fenty] and Council Chairman Vincent Gray have agreed to keep the current management team in place to avoid a mid-year disruption in the education of the students."

RHEE TO PARENTS -- Rhee sent a letter to parents: "This is not a decision we made lightly. But it is one that I believe is essential to allow Chairman Gray to pursue our shared goal of uniting this city behind the school reforms that are making a difference in the lives of our children. ... Kaya Henderson, currently deputy chancellor, has been named Acting Chancellor. This decision by Chairman Gray should put to rest any question of whether reform will continue under the Gray administration. Chairman Gray is committed to continued and uninterrupted reform."

EDITORIALS -- The Post's editorial board writes that, under Rhee, "the city's public schools underwent unprecedented change and unqualified improvement." They continue: "That Ms. Rhee and Mr. Gray mutually agreed to a transition that leaves the chancellor's well-respected leadership team in place is a hopeful, albeit still early, sign. ... Enormous attention, of course, will now focus on Mr. Gray and what he will do when, as expected, he is sworn in as mayor in January. Will Mr. Gray, for example, give Ms. Henderson the kind of backing and support that Mr. Fenty gave Ms. Rhee? ... The system is still inadequate, and it will take someone as fearless as Ms. Rhee to continue her work." The Wall Street Journal editorializes with less nuance: "Michelle Rhee described her decision yesterday to step down as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor after 3½ years as 'heartbreaking.' We share the sentiment. That one of the nation's most talented school reformers was forced out does not bode well for students, or speak well of the man likely to become D.C.'s next mayor." The piece notes that the WTU's support of the move is "a strong signal that her departure is a victory for the adults who run public education, not the kids in failing schools." Here's Tom Toles:

EXIT INTERVIEWS -- Rhee gave one-on-one interviews to select media outlets. She tells NPR's Melissa Block: "For a certain population of people in this city, they're not going to be able to embrace the reforms as long as I'm involved. ... The plan absolutely can continue. The progress can continue, and it can do so without the distraction of having me, which for some people just wasn't part of what they hoped for long-term." She also spoke to WAMU-FM's Kavitha Cardoza: "This is absolutely an example of adult interests not getting in the way of what's right for kids. ... We decided we needed to come together and make a decision that's best for kids, and that's where we ended up. ... Everything that we're doing can continue on without a blip." She tells Newsweek that Henderson "is no shrinking violet. That lady speaks her mind more than I do. Anyone out there who is hoping this means that accountability is going away is absolutely mistaken." She added: "If people don't want to see reforms rolled back, people need to make sure the next mayor knows very clearly that they want these reforms to continue, that they expect them to continue." And this morning, Rhee told Good Morning America: "My passion is in K to 12 education. I think our nation's public schools are really doing a disservice to our children particularly in urban areas and I want to figure out where I can be, which one would take me closer to my fiancé but also where I can have the most impact."

AND NOW THE PUNDIT PARADE...

-- Freeman Klopott writes in the Examiner that the Henderson-for-Rhee switch is "good politics" by any measure: "By replacing Rhee with her second-in-command, Gray has sent a message to the affluent, white Rhee-backing voters who opposed him that he's serious about continuing with the reforms Rhee set in motion while also placating the mostly black voters who wanted Rhee's head and heavily supported Gray in the primary against Mayor Adrian Fenty."

-- Jonetta Rose Barras writes in the Examiner: "No need to sugarcoat this. It's totally whacked that obstructionists with political and personal agendas pushed out a woman who cared about D.C.'s children and fought to improve their lives. ... Gray may think he's made a smart political move. But now, as they say in the retail business, you break it, you own it. If reforms stall, or the achievement trajectory heads downward, Gray's political future will be short-lived. No amount of union spending or Mau mauing by African Americans will be able to resurrect it."

-- Marc Ambinder writes on his Atlantic blog: "Rhee is a Grade-A edu-lebrity, and she's the perfect bureaucrat for the Reality Show age, when personal brands matter as much as ideas. Or when, at the very least, ideas don't succeed unless they've got good brands behind them. ... Rhee courted the educational elite and charmed them. Oprah loves her. In a way, Rhee helped make it safe for liberal Democrats to gingerly question the hegemony of teachers' unions. Before Rhee, Washington, D.C., paid lip service to the idea that drastic reforms were necessary. After Rhee, every schools chief will be measured against her tenacity."

--- Fast Company's Jeff Chu, who profiled Rhee, says of Henderson: "Talking to the city will be a big part of her job -- more than anything, the next chancellor must keep marketing the reforms that Rhee initiated and get more of Washington on board. ... Beyond the fact that she looks very different from Rhee and maybe speaks a little more softly, things shouldn't change that much. A veteran of both Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, Henderson is a true believer in Rhee's reforms and in her open-door policy."

-- Newsweek quotes a Fordham Institute wonk, Chester Finn: "In New Orleans it took a hurricane to change the schools, and in D.C. it took Michelle Rhee. ... You can't do disruptive reform without being disruptive. The kinds of changes she made were fundamental: closing schools and firing people and changing the ground rules under which people are employed. You can't get those things done by acting like a cream puff. She made a lot more headway because of her style than she would have without it." He added: "She is a force of nature, and now she'll become even more of a national player than a district player. This is not a woman who is leaving town with her tail between her legs. She's slightly tragic, and slightly a martyr, but mostly heroic. She's going to be a real presence in education for a long time, and thank God for that."

-- John Merrow, the NewsHour reporter who has followed Rhee since virtually the beginning of her DCPS tenure, writes at HuffPo that "[w]hat happens next in Washington is the big story" and wonders if "her reforms could be undercut." Dana Goldstein writes for the Daily Beast that "Rhee's departure raises questions about the sustainability of her reforms, many of which have yet to be implemented."

-- Suderman writes: "Almost Mayor Vince Gray and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have amicably broken up and decided that Gray gets to keep the kids. ... Even if Henderson goes down as history's sweetest, most politically savvy educational bureaucrat, the aggressive reforms that the Almost Mayor claims to want will inevitably involve some disagreeing with the union that helped elect Gray. When that happens, will she get the necessary political cover from her new boss?"

-- Melinda Henneberger of Politics Daily (full disclosure: Bill Turque's wife) lays out "Five Reasons Michelle Rhee's Departure Does Not Spell Disaster for D.C. Schools." Among them: "All parties -- Gray, Rhee's critics, and even the villains of the cartoon version of the reform effort, the dreaded teachers' unions -- have an interest in proving that Rhee, and not reform itself, was the problem. ... As a recipient of a Race to the Top grant to D.C.'s public and public charter schools, Gray has to either continue reform efforts or stand to lose $75 million. ... And why assume that Gray, who has spent most of his adult life working with homeless people, wants anything but the best for kids in the poorest schools in his hometown?" Colleague Alex Wagner wonders whether the White House could have done more to save Rhee's job, calling her a "a near perfect partner [for Obama and Duncan] right in their own backyard."

-- Bloomberg quotes the oft-quoted Diane Ravitch: "Rhee is out because her patron lost the election, and that loss should have taught the leaders of this movement that they are headed in the wrong direction. ... The school reform ideas that she represents will continue with the support of the wealthiest, most powerful men in our society -- President Obama, Bill Gates, and Wall Street -- but will encounter stiff resistance from millions of teachers, parents, and citizens, who want to improve their local schools, not close them or privatize them."

-- Speaking of Bill Gates, Post reporter Jonathan O'Connell spoke to the man yesterday. He said, per Jonathan's tweets, "Having somebody like Michelle Rhee no longer be superintendent is a step backwards" ... "D.C. was willing to put a personnel situation in place. There's a question of whether they'll stick to that" ... "I think there are some good lessons from D.C. and hopefully D.C. itself will continue to believe that kids are the priority."

-- The Heritage Foundation lauds Rhee's "legacy of reform," and the National Review's John J. Miller asks: "Will Obama have the guts to bemoan the departure of this "wonderful" public servant? Or is Rhee no longer a convenient campaign prop?" The answer: Not really. In comments to a press gaggle, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "Obviously, the important work of people like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan and others has to -- has to continue, regardless of the outcome of elections."

MORE -- Bill did a live chat yesterday on the Rhee news. Patch has response from Jack Evans. The Sacramento Bee notes that Rhee said recently: "Once we get married, I'll formally be part of the community in Sacramento and I would love to do anything I can in that role to help push the education reform agenda forward." TBD's Jenny Rogers collected the best faint praise and back-handed compliments from the press conference. NewsHour has video of the presser. There's parent reactions at the D.C. Schools Insider blog and from WTTG-TV. (Said one Northwest parent: "I was supportive of Michelle Rhee's reforms. But I gotta tell you, she didn't go out on a high note. The way she handled the last six weeks left a bad taste in my mouth. I want someone who's going to continue reforms, but who's about the kids, not an ego trip.") Also Education Week, the Examiner, NPR, WUSA-TV, WRC-TV, WTOP, AP news story, AP reaction story.

***

DPW WORKER SHOT DEAD -- In a tragic news story sadly overshadowed by the Rhee departure, 24-year-veteran sanitation worker Larry Hutchins "was killed Wednesday morning and a fellow employee was wounded when a man fired shots outside a Department of Public Works facility as trash collectors were preparing to start their rounds," Paul Duggan reports. "Hutchins, 51, of Suitland, was standing with other employees in the trash-truck lot of the facility, at 1241 W St. NE, when the assailant walked into the lot about 6:15 a.m. and fired almost two dozen shots, officers said. A second sanitation worker, a man in his mid-50s, was wounded. He was hospitalized in good condition, officers said. They did not identify him. ... The gunman was wearing a uniform of some kind, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told reporters, citing witness accounts. It was not clear whether he was in a public works uniform or whether he was a department employee or former employee. He fled the scene." Scott McCabe reports in Examiner: "The shooting came about six months after D.C. Protective Services had conducted a security assessment of the facility and called for more lighting, security cameras and officers. The assessment was taken after a person was fatally stabbed outside the Brentwood facility. Public Works officials rejected the recommendations. ... In the past three months, a worker broke a chair over at the solid waste plant at Bryant Street and another employee was stabbed in the chest at 11th and O streets NE." Also WTOP, TBD, WTTG-TV, WUSA-TV, Gazette.

SPOILS SYSTEM -- Another fab story overshadowed by other happenings: Suderman reports in this week's Loose Lips column about a spate of last-minute Fenty hirings: "Several workers from Fenty's failed reelection bid were given well-paying city jobs soon after the Sept. 14 primary -- and shortly before the mayor ordered a citywide hiring freeze to help bridge a $175 million budget gap, campaign and city payroll records show. ... Most new hires were brought on board between Sept. 27 and Sept. 29, records show. On Sept. 27, the city's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, told city officials the District was about to start its new fiscal year already $175 million in the hole. In response, Almost Mayor Vincent Gray called for a freeze on hiring and promoting city workers. Fenty ordered a hiring freeze on Oct. 4. ... Many interviewed for this story speculated that Fenty was unaware and uninterested in the recent rash of hirings and firings. The moves, they say, were made by some of his more powerful underlings." Read it!

REMAKING WALTER REED -- Mayoral development officials will present plans for the 62-acre Walter Reed campus tonight, and Jonathan O'Connell gets an early look: "Despite its location amid residential neighborhoods, security needs have secluded Walter Reed from its surroundings, and residents say they hope redevelopment of the property will end its status as a federal island. City officials envision new uses for more than a dozen brick buildings with historical significance, such as the central hall where President Dwight D. Eisenhower died, mixed with new buildings capable of attracting new amenities to the area. A two-block stretch of Georgia Avenue that is cut off from the neighborhood by an iron fence and a security guard station would be remade into a retail corridor, and the western end of the site, along Aspen Street, would have new housing that would integrate with neighborhoods to the south. Other buildings, arranged around a central green, would accommodate services for the homeless, a health clinic operated by Howard University Hospital, office buildings and two charter schools, Washington Yu Ying and Latin American Montessori Bilingual. In all, the plan envisions 2.2 million square feet of development costing nearly $500 million, along with 40 acres of green space. It would create an estimated 3,200 jobs and $18 million in annual tax revenue. ... Although the District continues to face budget shortfalls, development of Walter Reed is expected to require $34 million to $38 million in infrastructure improvements." Michael Neibauer has further details at WBJ.

RESULTS ONLY -- The Center for American Progress kicks of a series of articles on how Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak is trying to adapt his agency to a "results-only work environment," or ROWE. "[T]he radically flexible workplace concept permits employees to work where they want, when they want -- so long as they meet predefined goals. The idea is to define work by results achieved, not time invested. ... It's never been tried on a scale like this before in the public sector, but D.C.'s 35-year-old [Sivak] hopes unleashing his workers from face-time requirements and office schedules will help him overcome a managerial triple-whammy: punishing budget cuts, a citywide hiring freeze, and the perennial challenge of recruiting talented IT workers to lower government pay." Of course: "[T]here's the really big question mark hanging over the entire office: What happens in January, when a new mayor comes in and ushers in a leadership team that could sweep away Sivak and all his initiatives?" Also: An interview with Sivak.

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Fenty could return to Oberlin College to teach (D.C. Wire)

Council considers studying public schools' Title IX compliance (The Post)

Peter Nickles joins foreclosure probe (the Examiner)

Fenty signs "national popular vote" bill (news release)

DHS still in search of more homeless beds (The Post)

Liquor license moratorium for Barracks Row? (Housing Complex)

Metro embarks on long-term growth plan (the Examiner)

How Bloomingdale got its first bar -- avoiding the ANC helped (Housing Complex)

Central Liquors sign downtown could soon be gone (WaTimes)

Thanks D.C. Council: Title insurance rates now uniform! (DCmud)

Informer notes "polite reception" for Gray at Ward 3 town hall (Informer)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Nickles hits TBD's NewsTalk to explain why an elected attorney general is a bad idea, 10 a.m. -- council hearing on allowing notaries to perform marriages, 2 p.m. in JAWB 412

By Mike DeBonis  | October 14, 2010; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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