- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

Clifford B. Janey, the presumptive D.C. schools superintendent, has won a national reputation for boosting test scores while running the Rochester, N.Y., school system, but his departure was marked by bitter accusations of mishandled school finances and his severance package.

The D.C. school board introduced Mr. Janey Wednesday, ending a nine-month search for a new superintendent. Mr. Janey held the top position in Rochester for seven years until the school board bought out his contract in May 2002 amid a $45 million budget shortfall.

The Rochester school board agreed to a $262,000 severance package for Mr. Janey, according to legal documents.

Rochester Mayor William Johnson and a group of five residents filed an appeal with New York Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills to block the school board’s decision on the amount of severance to pay Mr. Janey.

In the appeal, Mr. Johnson said the school board had “just cause” to fire Mr. Janey, citing low test scores and poor fiscal management.

Mr. Mills dismissed Mr. Johnson’s complaint last year, saying the mayor did not have the standing to appeal the school board’s decision to grant the severance.

Mr. Janey’s severance package included an upbeat recommendation letter and a provision that school board members refrain from saying anything negative about him, according to the legal documents.

“The letter was all positive,” said Hans Debruyn, one of the residents who appealed the severance package. “It said something to the effect of how he had presented balanced budgets. He did, but they were all overspent. That was his downfall.”

Mr. Johnson did not return phone calls yesterday and his attorney in the case was not available for comment. Mr. Janey could not be reached.

Rochester school board member Bolgen Vargas yesterday said Mr. Janey “did an excellent job” during his seven years in running the 35,000-student district, and was being unfairly blamed for the school district’s fiscal woes.

“He was the scapegoat,” Mr. Vargas said. “That’s one of the primary reasons superintendents don’t usually last that long.”

Mr. Vargas, a supporter of Mr. Janey’s, blamed the school district’s financial problems on an economic downturn in the New York economy after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“I think he will do extremely well in Washington because he has a keen understanding of the issues not just impacting D.C., but every single urban school district,” Mr. Vargas said.

Another Rochester school board member, Darryl W. Porter, said Tuesday that Mr. Janey had “needed to give more time to the financial piece” during his last few years as superintendent in New York.

D.C. school board members and city officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams, lauded Mr. Janey in a press conference Wednesday. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, called Mr. Janey “the right fit for the District of Columbia.”

D.C. school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz said she expected the school board to negotiate a three-year contract with Mr. Janey, but she would not discuss his salary.

Former D.C. Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance earned $175,000 per year. But while trying to lure another top candidate to D.C., officials reportedly offered a salary and benefits package in the $600,000 range.

Mrs. Cafritz said the school board will approve a contract with Mr. Janey next month. James Dyke, a McLean-based attorney, is negotiating the contract for the school board. He did not return a phone call yesterday.

Mr. Janey’s accomplishments in Rochester include raising math and reading scores and reducing the achievement gap between black and white students, according to his resume.

Before arriving in Rochester in 1995, Mr. Janey spent 22 years in the Boston public school system, where he served as a reading teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer.

Mr. Vargas said one of Mr. Janey’s biggest accomplishments was bringing stability to Rochester’s schools.

“When he came in, we had a revolving door of superintendents,” Mr. Vargas said. “That’s the most malignant thing that happens to any organization.”

D.C. education advocates yesterday said they liked what they have seen so far on Mr. Janey’s resume, but they’re looking forward to a face-to-face meeting.

“He seems to have the things that parents were looking for in terms of raising student achievement and having an understanding of urban education,” said Iris Toyer, president of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools.

But she criticized the school board and city leaders for taking so long to find a replacement for Mr. Vance, who resigned in November.

“This has been the most convoluted process in terms of hiring a superintendent that I have ever witnessed,” she said. “I’m just happy it’s over.”

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