D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray hasn't made a secret of his skepticism of the office of Deputy Mayor for Education Victor A. Reinoso. At a budget hearing a couple weeks ago, Gray repeatedly suggested that the office was redundant and perhaps unnecessary.
Today, during a Committee of the Whole budget markup for education, Gray proposed stripping $2 million from Reinoso's $6.9 million budget request and redirecting it toward one of Gray's own education initiatives--expanding pre-kindergarten opportunities.
The move could be a blow to the administration. Reinoso's office had a budget of $2.4 million this year, but was envisioning a signficant expansion. Reinoso said $2 million in his budget proposal would go toward oversight of the education system--about the same as this year--and $500,000 is devoted to a new Office of the School Ombudsman, which has four employees including ombudsman Tonya Kinlow. Another $4 million is slated to be spent on so-called "wrap-around" services in the schools--new programs aimed at delivering health care and student safety services. Among the new programs planned for next year include home visits from nurses and new training for security guards.
In an interview, Reinoso and his deputy Eric Lerum described the office's role as an "incubator" of new programs.
"Since we don't have day to day responsibility, we are in position off to the side to do research, RFPs [contracts], incubate, evaluate, and then hand [new programs] over" to other city agencies, Lerum said. "That way will do not take the agencies' focus off what they're doing now."
But Gray has been skeptical of Reinoso's performance for a while. Last year, the chairman delayed a council vote to confirm Reinoso after it came to light that the mayor's education improvement plan had been largely copied without attribution from a school district in North Carolina. At the hearing two weeks ago, Gray repeatedly asked Reinoso to defend his budget, telling him: "Obviously, one should know what one is getting for $6.9 million. I'm struggling to do that."
Gray asked why agencies such as the health department cannot simply create and operate the new programs on their own.
"I have no quarrel with the initiatives," Gray said. "But it seems to me yet another layer--the deputy mayor's office. I can't understand the significant differences of what [the agencies] would do on their own or under this model."