"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michelle Rhee's Crystal Ball Worth $27 Million

After 49 years of declining enrollment in DC Schools, Michelle Rhee is finding it difficult to make the case for her projected increase in enrollment next year. Particularly since she has left D. C. Council entirely out of the loop in her murky deliberations and arbitrary decision making.

With charter schools having established a predictable history in DC of siphoning off public school students every year since they began, Rhee now wants City Council to buy into her crystal ball gazing that has projected an increase in public school enrollment next year, even as the charter schools expect to add another 3,000 or so of DC's public school students.

And if she doesn't get the extra $27 million she wants for her invented reality, Rhee has publicized plans to make cuts in individual schools, rather than tamper with the corporate bureaucracy that she has constructed around her at central office. From WaPo:

. . . . The council voted May 12 to hold back $27 million of the system's $760 million budget for 2010, claiming that Rhee's enrollment forecast -- which calls for an increase of 373 students to a total of 45,054 after years of steady decline -- has been inflated to squeeze more money out of the District. The council's projection, based on the downward trend of the past three years, puts the student population at 41,541. The District's burgeoning public charter schools estimate that they will enroll 28,066 students, up from 25,363 this year.

The council is not challenging the charter estimate. It presumes that much of the charter growth is continuing to come at the expense of traditional public schools, which is why it doubts Rhee's projection.

"I am simply asking, where are 3,000 new students going to come from?" chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said at the May 12 hearing. "I am going to go out this afternoon and look to see if there are 3,000 parachutes coming out of the sky."

Rhee has waged an aggressive public and private campaign to roll back the council's decision. She has lobbied members individually and targeted local school budgets -- rather than central offices -- for cuts should the $27 million reduction stand. Spreadsheets posted on the D.C. schools Web site break down the potential impact school by school.

That has turned the heat up on council members, who are getting anxious calls and e-mails from constituents. But it has also strained Rhee's relations with local school communities, which worked for months with Rhee's staff on developing the 2010 budget and wonder why she hasn't looked more closely at the central office bureaucracy for cuts.

. . . .

Negotiations between the two sides are expected to continue this week.

The dispute is playing out in an atmosphere of escalating tensions between the council and Rhee's boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), over virtually everything from board appointments to baseball tickets. There is particular resentment with what many members regard as a lack of transparency and responsiveness from the chancellor's office. Although the 2007 mayoral takeover of the schools vests power in Rhee and Fenty, the council feels it has been cut out of its oversight role.

The work that Rhee commissioned from the think tanks was completed weeks ago but not shared with the council this spring when it was deliberating the school budget. The study was made available to members and staff last Monday.

"Why is it that it takes us setting aside money to get them to come to the table and explain things?" asked council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). "How can we possibly exercise oversight when we don't have accurate information?" . . . .

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