Strings Attached: Keep Rhee or No Money

Private money for teacher deal depends on Rhee keeping job

It’s a lot of ifs -- private foundations are promising the D.C. school system $64.5 million to help pay for teachers’ raises, if Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee keeps her job, which is not guaranteed if Mayor Adrian Fenty loses his re-election bid.

The Washington Post reports the letters sent to Rhee from the Walton Family Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and the Broad Foundation reserve the right to discontinue support of D.C. Public Schools if leadership changes.

Walton is the largest single donor, promising $25 million. Robertson has pledged $19.5 million, and Arnold and Broad have promised $10 million each.

Apparently the clause is standard for private grants, but what’s at issue is its timing. Fenty has announced he will keep Rhee if he wins re-election. But D.C. mayoral candidate, Council Chair Vincent Gray, has not made the same guarantee. Another issue is how the private funding is built into the new teachers’ contract.

Should the foundations pull their funding after the agreement is finalized, the District could be liable for at least $21 million – the amount of private money earmarked to pay teacher salaries. According the contract, the Washington Teachers’ Union could sue the city or seek arbitration for breach of contract.

Financing for the proposed teacher contract is already in jeopardy. The existence of a $34 million surplus planned for use funding part of the teacher raises is in question.

Rhee is scheduled to appear before the D.C. Council on Friday along with D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi.

"The government has to be assured that the money it is getting is without condition. We cannot spend money that we are not certain of," Gandhi told the Post through a spokesman.

Gandhi is expected to announce Friday that the strings attached to the foundation money are too many, News4's Tom Sherwood reported.

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