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Editorial: Rhee Should Plant Feet in School Reform, not Election Campaign

Is D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee going to walk if Mayor Adrian Fenty loses his re-election bid this fall? In interviews last week with The Washington Post and WAMU 88.5, she obliquely yet unmistakeably warned she might leave her post should D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray become Mayor.

In reality, she really shouldn't be talking about her prospects in this political context.

It is true that Fenty hired her and said he would keep her if he is re-elected. Gray, on the other hand, just says he wants a "strong chancellor" who will make "hard choices." The Chancellor has apparently decided to campaign for Fenty.

Despite Rhee's achievements and commitment to some needed reforms, we agree with Post writers Valerie Strauss and Jay Mathews that Rhee should not insert herself into the political debate. Strauss points out that “it seems odd that she would be so quick to suggest that she might abandon [D.C. public school students] without giving a new mayor a chance to do what she considers the right thing.” Mathews adds that “Rhee should take [Gray] at his word” that he has not made up his mind and refocus all her attention to fixing our schools.

Not to mention one pesky thing: the law. The Hatch Act regulates political activity by D.C. government employees. Rhee can campaign for Fenty -- make speeches and distribute literature -- but only on her own time and without the use of her official title, as the Post's Bill Turque and Nikita Stewart noted.

Council member Jack Evans has become a strong, independent voice on the D.C. Council, calling for candor on the D.C. budget and other pressing issues. We urge him to remind officials that D.C. public school students and their families should not be used as political pawns in a heated Mayoral campaign.

Ms. Rhee should firmly plant her feet in the ground of school reform and leave the politics to the politicians.

-- The Editors