Rhee racing clock to fix school woes

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D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday employees are working around the clock to fix administrative backlogs and other problems before classes start Aug. 27.

Mrs. Rhee said one of the biggest problems is the school system’s central office has an estimated 4 million pages of unfiled personnel documents.

“The room was an absolute mess,” she said at a press conference at Ferbee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, said he made filing the paperwork a priority six weeks ago, after an independent audit called the situation a “material weakness.”

The audit prompted Mr. Fenty, school board President Robert C. Bobb and then-Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to commission in June two firms to conduct forensic audits on the school system to increase efficiency.

Mrs. Rhee, recently hired by Mr. Fenty as part of his schools-takeover plan, said 25 teacher vacancies remain and 70 “excess” teachers who have been moved out of their schools because of program changes need to be placed. But many of the vacancies require bilingual teachers or are not in the subjects for which teachers are available.

The school system also lacks an ombudsman whom school officials previously said they would try to place by the start of school. Mr. Fenty said a five-member panel is reviewing candidates and one would be chosen “as soon as possible.”

“There is no way in the world I’m going to sacrifice quality to meet the deadline because this person has to be excellent,” he said.

Mrs. Rhee said the school system has its full inventory of 191,000 textbooks and expects about 95 percent of students to have books by the first day of school. She announced three weeks ago that a mix-up in the ordering system caused thousands of books to be sent to the wrong schools.

She said as of last week 45,000 students had registered and more textbook orders would likely come in if enrollment increases.

The status of school repairs will be updated tomorrow by Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization Director Allen Y. Lew, Mr. Fenty said.

Mrs. Rhee gave few details about the repairs but said she plans to make a list from each school and post it on the system’s Web site.

“The parents can look forward to having a clear understanding of everything that is going to happen over the coming school year,” she said.

Mrs. Rhee also said adjustments may be made to the Master Facilities Plan drafted by Mr. Janey, to address urgent repairs for schools that are not scheduled for modernization for several years.

Ferbee-Hope Principal C. Maurice Porter said the school needs only minor repairs and that his interaction with Mr. Fenty’s new school administration has been “phenomenal.”

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