- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

For months, the public tossed and turned over Mayor Fenty’s proposal to reform public education. While the proposal became actual law weeks back, the public has yet to settle down. Now the mayor has his new school-leadership lineup on deck, so the immediate attention turns to the D.C. Council, which held a series of highly frank and contentious hearings on the Fenty proposal. Today, the council is scheduled to begin the first of at least three public hearings on the mayor’s school appointees. While the appointees’ testimony is a naturally important part of the confirmation process, the linchpin is in the hands of the council.

It is vital that each of the 13 members of the council grill what essentially are the mayor’s handpicked agents of change for public schooling.

The mayor is positioning the appointees — Allen Lew, Michelle Rhee and Victor Reinoso — to interact with various public and private sectors in order to refine and execute his school-reform plan. Lifting D.C. students out of the academic basement, where they have floundered for more than two decades, is issue No. 1 with us. So we expect every step the council and the mayor make be a means toward that end. And since the legislation that President Bush signed earlier this month also gives the council line-item control of school appropriations and expenditures, we urge the council to get down to the nitty gritty during the confirmation hearings.

First up for confirmation is Mr. Lew. The council is extremely familiar with Mr. Lew, who oversaw development of the new convention center and, until accepting the mayor’s appointment, the new Washington Nationals stadium, which is slated to open for the start of the next baseball season. If confirmed — and we see no reason why the council shouldn’t stamp his confirmation — Mr. Lew will oversee the city’s multibillion-dollar facilities-modernization efforts, beginning with athletic fields.

The student aspect of student-athletes is, of course, more critical to a child’s success. That’s where Victor Reinoso, deputy mayor for education, comes in as the second appointee in the confirmation process. To say much is expected of Mr. Reinoso is an understatement. He is a former member school board who receives praise and justifiable criticism as the mayor’s go-to guy. So far, Mr. Reinoso has been inarticulate — parents and other stakeholders don’t know whether Mr. Reinoso (who holds Mr. Fenty’s proxy) is treading water or warming a seat. Either way, it falls to the council to pry Mr. Reinoso and not fall for the “we’ve-got-everything-under-control” rhetoric. He lived and breathed the ragged system from the inside for two years. The council knows where schools should be headed, and Mr. Reinoso needs to detail how the mayor plans to get there.

City Hall is in unfamiliar territory with Mrs. Rhee, the mayor’s pick to be chancellor. The system has been run by superintendents who came up through the ranks. Everybody knows everybody — except Mrs. Rhee, who comes from the nonprofit world. Lawmakers cannot wing it with Mrs. Rhee, unless they just want to be contentious for the sake of appearing nonpartisan despite the fact that everybody knows the liberal council lacks true bipartisanship.

The council should, as always, listen to the usual suspects who turn out for such public airings but not be fooled. Mr. Lew is expected to form specific tasks in conjunction with Mrs. Rhee. If these two aren’t on the exact same page at the exact same time, an entire school could be turned upside down because a single fire code or disability mandate. These two must cross every “t” and dot every “i.” It’s called accountability, and the council should impress as much accordingly.

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