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."