An investigation into actions taken last fall by District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has found no wrongdoing on her part. The investigation was launched in response to a complaint filed in June about how the teacher contract was handled.
In a letter released this week, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said the complaint was baseless. “It is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law,” Nickles stated.
Nickles said in the letter that he’d been asked by Robert Brannum of the Office of Campaign Finance to investigate whether the chancellor violated conflict of interest laws when she solicited or accepted private funding to support certain provisions of the teacher’s contract.
Brannum also alleged that attempts to provide private funding – which would have bolstered teacher pay raises over the next five years – appeared to have been contingent on Rhee remaining head of the troubled school system.
The new teacher contract was ratified in June after three years of contentious talks between DCPS and the 4,000-member Washington Teachers Union. After discovering that sufficient funds from the city would not be available to support provisions of the contract, Rhee explored the possibility of coming up with the money through private donations.
The D.C. Public Education Fund stepped up to the plate, identifying at least four private foundations that were willing to invest in improving the school system. But the foundations’ assistance would come with certain conditions. As Rhee ultimately backed away, Natwar Gandhi, the city’s chief financial officer, decided not to certify the use of private funds to support the contract.
In response to the complaint, Rhee – who stated that funding of teacher pay provisions had been a significant concern of hers – acknowledged having considered the foundations’ help.
But she said she “did not seek, suggest, encourage or play any other role in the funders’ reservation of the right to reconsider their commitments in the event of a material change in DCPS leadership.”
Rhee also stated she had not been influenced in any way as she went about her duties as chancellor, and that she had no obligation to the foundations relative to their right to reconsider their commitments.