City Paper is not for tourists
In his column for this week Education Issue, LL delved into 17 months worth of Michelle Rhee‘s official schedule, obtained through a public records request. The column details the DCPS chancellor’s travel and explores how she’s inserted herself into a web of private foundations, think tanks, civic groups, and other organizations—-many of which are have been devoted to scrapping public education as we know it.
But besides those things in the column, there were other goodies revealed in Rhee’s schedule.
For instance, on Aug. 5 last year, Rhee met with Condoleezza Rice for a two-hour meeting. In an interview, Rhee said the rendezvous was a one-on-one lunch meeting in Rice’s office at the state department. The secretary, Rhee says, “asked me about how it was going, about public education. She said that once she left the administration that she wanted to be involved in public education, and you know, that sort of thing.”
“There are lots of people like that,” she says, “‘Whatever we can do to be helpful’; you know, ‘if you need anything, just ask,’ that sort of thing.”
Rhee made multiple trips to the White House and the Old Executive Office Building to meet with Bush administration officials. Many of the meetings were with budget bureaucrats and education department officials, but Rhee had attended at least two White House events with Laura Bush.
The chancellor says she knew the first lady well before she started at DCPS. “She was a huge supporter of [The New Teacher Project—-the teacher-recruitment nonprofit Rhee ran for nine years]. She was very involved during the entire time she was first lady in literacy initiatives.” One of the meetings, she recalls, was a gathering of state-level schools executives on early-reading projects.
Rhee had other political contacts as well. In October 2007, she attended a reception for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the occasion of the publication of his memoirs, hosted by syndicated conservative columnist and ed-reform advocate Armstrong Williams. Twice she met with Anna Bernanke, the wife of Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke who has worked as a Spanish teacher, in connection with a “Public/Private Partnership.”
And during the height of last year’ presidential campaign, she made contact with high-profile surrogates from Obama and McCain camps.
On June 25 and July 29, she was scheduled to speak on the phone with political scion Caroline Kennedy. The calls, on which Mayor Adrian M. Fenty joined her, had nothing to do with politics, she says, but rather fundraising. Kennedy had served as chief fundraiser for the New York public schools, and “we were just curious to know how that was set up and what the relationship between her and [Chancellor Joel I. Klein] was and how their operation worked.”
Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief exec and a high-profile supporter of John McCain once mentioned as vice-presidential material, had met Rhee at an event and the two talked on the phone in early July. “She said she’d be happy to be helpful in any way,” Rhee recalls. “I think she is somebody obviously who knows a lot about change management and that sort of thing, and it was a meeting based on that.”
Again, Rhee says, politics didn’t come up: “I didn’t know she was advising McCain, so shows you how out of touch I am,” she jokes.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery