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D.C. Schools Chancellor Rhee's approval rating in deep slide
But the aggressive program and some public comments that have rankled key constituencies have placed Rhee deeply at odds with some parents and school community leaders who say her zeal to move quickly has left them without a real voice.
Her willingness to challenge the power of the politically potent Washington Teachers' Union -- her 2008 proposal would dramatically raise teacher salaries while weakening job-security provisions -- has won plaudits nationwide from reform advocates who regard unionized educators as a major obstacle to change. But her stance, coupled with critical public comments about the low quality of some District educators, has made it difficult for her to negotiate a new contract with the union. Talks have sputtered since late 2007.
Members of the D.C. Council have criticized her for a lack of responsiveness in providing basic information about school operations. Tensions reached a peak in October after she laid off 266 teachers to help close what she said was a $43 million budget shortfall. Some council members accused her of unfairly blaming them for the layoffs and manipulating the budget process.
The Post's poll of 1,135 residents was taken last week at the height of a controversy over comments Rhee made to a national news magazine. She said that an unspecified number of the 266 laid-off teachers "had had sex with children," had been suspended for corporal punishment or had been persistently absent without authorization. After a four-day furor, Rhee disclosed that one of the dismissed educators had been accused of sexual misconduct, six had been suspended for corporal punishment and two had been chronically absent without leave.
In follow-up interviews, many poll respondents praised Rhee for her persistence in addressing years of failure and neglect.
"She seems to be competent, aggressive and a risk-taker," said Sidney Butler, 67, a Ward 3 resident with children in Lafayette Elementary School in the city's Chevy Chase section. "My impression of her is that she's doing what's necessary."
Martha Vicas, 47, a Ward 3 resident of Cleveland Park with children in private school, admires Rhee's tough stance with the teachers' union. "I think Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee have done some really gutsy things to a really entrenched bureaucracy. Definitely a good direction," Vicas said. "I think she's the first person in many years who has been willing to take on and fire ineffective principals and do things that take a lot of courage."
The poll was conducted Jan. 24 to 28 among a random sample of District adults by conventional and cellular telephone. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of three percentage points. There is a six-point error margin for the sample of parents.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.