- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES The New York-based nonprofit group founded by acting D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee will continue working on the nearly $1 million in school consulting contracts it received weeks before Mrs. Rhee was appointed.

Two contracts — for $489,910 and $499,000 — with the group, the New Teacher Project, were approved May 10, four weeks before Mayor Adrian Fenty, in his first move after taking over the schools, appointed Mrs. Rhee.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. school system said the timing of the contracts and Mrs. Rhee’s nomination were not related and that the group has been working with the school system for years.

“They were before there was any thought of this happening,” Audrey Williams, spokeswoman for the school system, said of the group’s work with D.C. schools.

Still, the arrangement could pose conflict-of-issue questions if Mrs. Rhee is directly involved in approving the company’s work or awarding additional work.

D.C. law prohibits public officials from using their position for the financial gain of businesses to which they are associated, but Miss Williams said the chancellor’s office will not supervise the group’s work.

She said the contracts will instead be monitored by the school system’s human resources department.

Under the contracts, the group will help recruit principals and teachers, including those in the DC Teaching Fellows program, which seeks out professionals in other careers to become educators.

Officials from the New Teacher Project did not return phone messages.

Neither the D.C. Council nor the Board of Education, which was replaced in Mr. Fenty’s takeover, approved the contracts. The council approves contracts of $1 million or more and the school board votes only on contracts of $500,000 or more.

Until recently, the school board approved all contracts of $100,000 or more, but the board gave recently fired schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey authority to execute contracts for less than $500,000 without its approval. He did not return phone messages to his home concerning the New Teacher Project contracts.

It is not clear whether other groups also bid for the contracts.

Miss Williams said the $489,910 and $499,000contracts were separate because one was related to the DC Teaching Fellows program and the other focused on recruiting principals and other staff.

Former school board member Jeff Smith said he and other board members had “extensive conversations” with Mr. Janey over how to increase and improve recruiting for teachers.

Mr. Smith said Mrs. Rhee should not be involved in approving more contract work for her former group.

“The only opportunity for any impropriety going forward is if new contracts were contemplated or extended if she was involved” as chancellor, he said. “It doesn’t sound like it’s the case here, but it’s a good question to ask.”

The contracts are a significant source of revenue for the group, according to financial records.

They represent about 10 percent of the $9.4 million in government fees and contracts the group reported in 2004 and 2005, its most recent available tax return.

Mrs. Rhee, scheduled to appear before the council for a confirmation hearing next month, isn’t the only New Teacher Project executive running D.C. schools. She appointed as her top deputy Kaya Henderson, a vice president for the group.

Miss Henderson also served as a board member for EdBuild, a D.C.-based nonprofit that won more than $50 million in school contracts.

Among EdBuild’s executives and key staffers are several current and former D.C. officials, including John Hill, director of the D.C. Board of Library Trustees; Julie Mikuta, a former D.C. school board member; and Eric Price, former D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

Neil Albert, who now serves as D.C. deputy mayor for economic development, joined EdBuild at a salary of $110,452 shortly after the nonprofit’s founding in 2005.



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