Saturday, July 7, 2007

Eight of 11 employees listed as part of acting schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s transition team are projected to earn annual salaries of more than $100,000, while two will earn $200,000, according to a list provided by the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

The pay levels of the new executives and the salary of Mrs. Rhee — who will earn $275,000 a year plus a $41,250 signing bonus — have caused some concern among D.C. Council members, who cautioned against setting the pay grade too high and warned that the salaries will warrant strict accountability.

“If we’re going to spend more money on salaries, there must be some real-time deliverables on academic achievement,” said Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat. “While I’ll be supporting the nominee, I think it’s important to note the expectation, on a scale of one to 10, is a 15.”

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, cautioned Mrs. Rhee at her confirmation hearing before the council on Monday about bringing in employees at too high of a salary level.

“Oftentimes people that work for nonprofits or governments do so out of love for what they’re doing and not because of salaries,” Mrs. Schwartz said later this week. “However, I’ve noticed both in terms of the nonprofit that she ran and the kinds of salaries that these individuals are going to be paid by our government that they don’t seem to be making much of a sacrifice.”

Mrs. Rhee’s new hires include Lisa Marie Ruda, former chief of staff to Cleveland schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Miss Ruda, who also served as interim chief executive officer of the Cleveland school system, will be chief of staff to Mrs. Rhee and earn $200,000. Peter G. Parham, chief of staff to former schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, earned a base salary of $170,000 in 2006.

It is unclear from their job titles how the other positions will correspond to positions in the staff of Mr. Janey. The makeup of Mrs. Rhee’s transition team reflects several new positions that fall under the oversight of the schools chancellor, which was created through Mr. Fenty’s school-takeover legislation.

For example, job titles for some of Miss Rhee’s new hires include “transition assistant for opening of schools” and “transition assistant for principal hiring.”

Mrs. Rhee also has hired Billy Kearney, Memphis director of the nonprofit New Leaders for New Schools. Mrs. Rhee had been rumored to be recruiting Mr. Kearney, who will earn $120,000 as transition assistant for leadership and could play a key role in helping to fill the District’s principal vacancies.

Mr. Kearney also was the Atlanta director of the nonprofit Teach for America, which recruited Mrs. Rhee to teach in a Baltimore public school in the early 1990s.

In one of her first moves as acting chancellor, Mrs. Rhee placed a freeze on hiring principals in order to search for the best candidates. Mr. Kearney’s starting date is listed as June 26.

One of Mrs. Rhee’s first hires also was Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who worked with Mrs. Rhee at the nonprofit New Teacher Project and will earn $200,000.

Ms. Henderson is a former board member of the local nonprofit EdBuild, and Mr. Fenty’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Neil O. Albert, is a former president and chief executive officer of EdBuild, which partners with public schools to improve academics and crumbling school facilities.

The transition team’s main focus will be ensuring that the school system opens smoothly in August, and it was unclear how many of the employees would remain on staff in the chancellor’s office permanently.

Fenty officials said of 11 employees listed tentatively as part of Mrs. Rhee’s transition team that only five are currently on the District’s payroll. The salaries also could be less than projected if officials merge the new positions with ones already existing in the school system and as the council’s concerns are weighed, officials said.

Some council members said they are “impressed” with Mrs. Rhee’s priorities for the school system, which include rebuilding the system’s special education program and creating greater accountability for both students and teachers.

“What’s significant for our residents is when we get ready to open schools, we have a person in position to do it,” said Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat.

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