D.C. school chief Rhee's next move probably toward the door

Recording artist John Legend walks the red carpet at the D.C. premiere of the education documentary film, "Waiting for Superman." The film has been criticized for being one-sided by praising charter schools over public schools.
By Bill Turque
Friday, September 17, 2010; 12:38 PM

Their long-awaited meeting is set for next week. But when Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and mayor-apparent Vincent C. Gray do finally sit down, it is increasingly likely that the discussion will focus on the terms of her disengagement from the D.C. school system rather than how she might stay.

Rhee moved her departure closer to certainty Wednesday night with comments to an A-list audience at the Newseum after the red-carpet premiere of "Waiting for 'Superman,'" the documentary that casts her as a tart-tongued heroine of the national education reform movement. At a panel discussion that followed the film, Rhee portrayed Gray's Democratic primary victory over Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Tuesday as a catastrophe.

"Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating," Rhee said. "Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty, because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C."

Gray campaign spokeswoman Traci Hughes said in a statement Thursday that it was "unfortunate that the children have been thrown into the middle of the political fray."

The statement said that Gray, the D.C. Council chairman, "has made it very clear from the very beginning: He will continue education reform. It's his top priority already, and he will put children first."

Rhee was on vacation and did not respond to e-mails seeking comment Thursday.

On Friday, she sent a letter to the opinion pages of The Washington Post in which she said she was not referring to Gray when she used the term "devastating."

"I was describing the perception by some that this election had been a referendum on reform of the D.C. schools itself," Rhee wrote. "If the results were to be read as a repudiation of reform, that indeed would be devastating for D.C. children, for the city and for children throughout the country who are so dependent on successful school reform efforts."

Rhee's Newseum broadside was one of several post-election events affecting the city's political landscape Thursday. While Rhee decried Gray's election, Fenty endorsed it at a D.C. Democratic State Committee "unity" breakfast and pledged his cooperation during the transition. The two are scheduled to sit down next week for their first face-to-face meeting in months.

Attorney General Peter Nickles, the mayor's closest adviser, said he will probably submit his resignation within the next 30 days.

"I am obviously not going to serve under a Gray administration," said Nickles, who often clashed with Gray but sent him a congratulatory e-mail Wednesday morning. He also pledged his assistance.

Some options

There is support on the D.C. Council for Rhee to remain until the end of the school year or beyond, but speculation about possible successors has begun. Former city administrator and D.C. Board of Education president Robert C. Bobb, currently the emergency financial director for the Detroit public schools, was a conspicuous presence at Gray's election night celebration.

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