- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

D.C. Council members yesterday unanimously approved Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s nomination of Michelle A. Rhee as schools chancellor, pledging their full support for what some have deemed a nontraditional choice to reform the District’s public schools.

“Many people complained that the mayor did not pick a so-called well-tenured, well-qualified big-city superintendent,” said David A. Catania, at-large independent. “My response to that is ‘Good. Hallelujah. At long last.’ ” The action came during the council’s final legislative session before members go on recess until Sept. 15.

Mrs. Rhee, a former public school teacher and head of a nonprofit that recruits teachers to work in urban school districts, has signed a contract giving her an annual salary of $275,000 plus a $41,250 signing bonus.

“I share a discomfort with the level of a salary and bonus and the full package,” said Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat. “But again, I cannot think of a more important endeavor” facing the District.

The council last night also approved a related emergency resolution introduced by Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, at Mr. Fenty’s request, which created two new executive service salary levels.

Mr. Fenty wrote in a letter to Mr. Gray that the new levels would raise the maximum salary to $279,000 and would provide for “much-needed flexibility” in determining salaries for agency heads.

Mrs. Rhee, for example, would be slotted in the highest salary level. However, some on the council expressed concern that the measure would allow the mayor to hire new agency heads at the high salary levels without council oversight. The council then passed an amendment to the resolution that would allow six specific agency heads, including the schools chancellor and chief financial officer, to be compensated based on the new pay schedule. But additional hires at the new pay levels would be subject to council approval. The council also defeated an amendment by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, to the mayor’s salary proposal that would have required council approval in advance of any employment contracts executed by the mayor with agency heads that did not adhere to D.C. personnel requirements.

Mr. Mendelson had expressed dissatisfaction with the mayor after the council received Mrs. Rhee’s employment contract after her public confirmation hearing. Mr. Mendelson wrote that his amendment was designed to “discourage contracts” because the mayor “negotiates terms and conditions that exceed what the law allows.” The council yesterday also unanimously approved Allen Y. Lew to head the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization. Mr. Lew earned council plaudits for his work managing construction of the Washington Convention Center and the District’s new baseball stadium.

As expected, members did not vote on Victor A. Reinoso’s nomination to be deputy mayor for education. Mr. Gray opted not to place Mr. Reinoso’s confirmation resolution on the council agenda, citing concerns that included accusations of plagiarism in the deputy mayor’s office.

Mr. Reinoso’s nomination is expected to be taken up by the council when it reconvenes in September after the summer recess.