|Rhee & Gray|
Arne Duncan is a big fan of mayoral control of the schools--or at least he says he is. In fact, when Duncan was first appointed as secretary of education, he staked his very reputation on placing many more urban school districts under one-man, top-down control by their mayors. He even told us:
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed," Duncan said. He offered to do whatever he can to make the case. "I'll come to your cities," Duncan said. "I'll meet with your editorial boards. I'll talk with your business communities. I will be there."
So now we have a new popularly-elected mayor in D.C., Vincent Gray, who won by a substantial margin over incumbent Adrian Fenty. Voters, especially those in predominantly black wards, made it clear that they were voting in large part against the continuation of Michelle Rhee as schools chancellor and especially against her firings of hundred of D.C. teachers. Rhee is the very embodiment of Duncan's Race-To-The-Top reform, a strategy focused on school closings, privately-run charter schools, mass teacher firings, and the undermining of collective-bargaining agreements.
Duncan campaigned actively for Fenty in the days leading up to the election. He used federal dollars to shower the district with grants and awards, as well as personal school tours and photo ops with Fenty and Rhee. Never before in history had an education secretary been so personally involved in trying to shape the outcome of a local mayor's race. He, along with several of the powerhouse foundations underwriting Rhee's efforts, even threatened to withhold more than $75 million in badly-needed school dollars should Gray defeat Fenty and replace Rhee with a leader more acceptable to the community.
But those threats obviously backfired, seeming to energize D.C. voters even more against Fenty, Rhee and Duncan.
Now suddenly, mayoral control seems to have slid from atop Duncan's priority list. Cheered on by a host of Washington's rich and powerful attending the recent premiere screening of the anti-union propaganda film Waiting for Superman, Duncan went into full arm-twisting mode, repeatedly calling Gray to cajole, threaten, and demand that he keep Rhee and her failed, divisive policies in place. Voters be damned. According to Newsweek:
Duncan has some influence with Gray, since the federal department recently announced that D.C. was one of the winners of the national Race to the Top school-reform competition, and stands to win $75 million if it implements the reforms Rhee’s administration outlined in its application... Duncan said he knows that Gray “knows what’s at stake” and “wants D.C. schools to continue to make progress.”
At this point, we don't know whether or not the man the Washington Post refers to as the "presumptive mayor" will fold under the pressure from Duncan and the foundations. But one thing seems clear. For Duncan, mayoral control really means control of the mayor.