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School district superintendents should find ways to gain political support from community members, according to Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
At a Sacramento Press Club luncheon Monday, Rhee urged the city’s businesspeople, media professionals and politicians to back Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond in his efforts.
These groups should “give this man some cover,” Rhee said.
Superintendents are not elected to their positions, but they can benefit from making alliances with groups, she said.
“When you are a superintendent and you want to do bold things that might not be popular, you have to have some political capital," she said.
Rhee, who is engaged to Mayor Kevin Johnson, gave the example of layoffs she made last fall. She said that because of a budget crunch, she laid off 266 teachers.
Rhee said she changed the way layoffs had been carried out, deciding that the criteria for a layoff should be the quality of a person’s work instead of the length of time they have worked for the school district.
The business community’s support of her criteria was helpful, she said.
“The business community were the ones who were my strongest supporters of this,” she said. “They came out and said: This is how we run our businesses. We would never run an organization in a way that you were just ... getting rid of people based on how many years they’ve been there instead of looking at what they produced for the organization.”
Rhee, who praised government systems in which mayors run schools, said she and Johnson were not planning any efforts to reverse California law to allow mayors to manage schools. However, she did say that an effort to change state law could be worthwhile later.
“Now, a few years down the line: Is this something that might be appropriate?” she asked rhetorically. “Absolutely.”
Asked after the event if she planned to move to Sacramento, Rhee responded that she still has a lot of work to do in Washington, D.C.
A move to Sacramento is “not going to be any time in the near future,” she said.
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.