With the defeat of Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary this week, his highly controversial schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is likely to be on the job market in a few months when Vincent Gray, Fenty's certain successor, takes office.
It would make sense for her to find a job in California, because that is where her fiance, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson resides, and one in eight children in the nation go to school.
But any prospect of Rhee coming to California would likely be deeply unsettling to California teachers, as well as principals. She made her mark early during her tenure by summarily removing principals from their posts. In June, she fired nearly 250 teachers she said were not effective, and put another 737 "minimally effective" ones on notice that they may be next.
While no decisions about her future have been made, by calling the results of the election "devastating" yesterday Rhee seems to be intentionally setting the stage for her inevitable departure from D.C. In many ways, at least some of the reason Fenty lost was because of her deep unpopularity among several key D.C. constituencies. Just how deep? Check out this column yesterday by the Washington Post's Courtland Malloy in which he describes Rhee as being part of "the old antebellum system of control" and has contributed to a climate of "friendly fascism" in the District.
Were Rhee to find a post in California, she would not be the first former D.C. schools chancellor to come here. Former San Francisco Superintendent Arlene Ackerman (now a superintendent in Philadelphia) came West from DC in 2000.
One possible landing place would be at a foundation with a reform agenda similar to hers. And there are no shortage of those. The Broad Foundation in Los Angeles has been a leader in promoting charter schools. The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which would at least get Rhee closer to the West Coast, is at the forefront of the current "teacher effectiveness" movement.
As for the public schools, now that Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines has announced he'll be retiring this spring, there will be an opening for the top school post there, although John Deasy seems to be the front runner to succeed him. There's always a chance that, come November, a newly elected Gov. Meg Whitman will be looking for a new Secretary of Education, which would conveniently land Rhee a job in Sacramento itself, although the job has a smidgen, if that, of the the authority that she has been accustomed to in D.C.
Fenty's defeat has one immediate consequence: Rhee and Johnson may have also have more time to clear up the confusion around their planned wedding at St. John's Lutheran Church in downtown Sacramento. It was originally scheduled for September 4. In a major breach of etiquette, the couple cancelled it just 11 days before the event, telling the 200 invited guests they wanted to have a more intimate affair at a later date.
One immediate outcome is Johnson will spend less time traveling to Washington, D.C., to campaign for Fenty as he has in recent weeks. That wouldn't be a bad thing in a city struggling by the dual impact of a devastating recession and cutbacks in state government which affects Sacramento more than any other California community.
Let me tell you this – not a single person in Sacramento has implied that because Kevin and I are getting married that he's going to be moving to D.C. Not a single person. And it (ticks) me off to no end that people assume that I'm going to be the one to move, or that of course I would have to move.
But Rhee obviously knows that as mayor of Sacramento, Johnson couldn't and can't move to Washington. And as D.C. schools chancellor she couldn't move to Sacramento.
But now that her tenure appears to be coming to a close, California surely beckons.