Chancellor Search Legality Challenged

By Theola Labbé And Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 16, 2007

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has asked Mayor Adrian M. Fenty for a detailed description of the selection process for Michelle A. Rhee as the new schools chancellor, saying he wanted to determine whether Fenty had followed the law.

In a letter dated Wednesday, a day after Fenty (D) announced Rhee as his pick, Gray (D) noted that the takeover legislation called for a panel of teachers, parents and students to review résumés. Gray questioned whether the group was genuinely involved in Rhee's candidacy.

"I am gravely concerned that the manner in which Ms. Rhee was selected did not follow the public process that was intended, and indeed mandated, by the legislation," Gray wrote in the letter that he copied to his council colleagues.

Fenty's secret search process for a replacement for former superintendent Clifford B. Janey and the surprise announcement of Rhee this week has generated controversy among parents and residents.

Several council members said Gray raised legitimate concerns.

"I thought it was disrespectful," said freshman council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7). "I thought we would have a little more advance notice and be able to give feedback to the mayor or even possibly make some suggestions for some candidates."

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said it was appropriate for Gray to remind the mayor that this is a "partnership" and the council's role "has to be respected."

In a response hand-delivered to Gray yesterday, Fenty's general counsel, Peter Nickles, wrote that the mayor did not intentionally or illegally slight the council and other stakeholders but said the threat of a voter referendum had slowed the chancellor selection process.

Nickles said the panel comprised two teachers, Steve Aupperle and Blondine Hughes; students Shayne Wells and Malik Stoney; and parents Terry Goings and Jackie Pinckney-Hackett, who also works in the mayor's education office. Nickels did not describe how the panel members were selected.

Nickles wrote that the panel met June 4 with Victor Reinoso, deputy mayor for education, and Eric Lerum, his chief of staff. He said they discussed challenges facing the school system and the qualities and expertise needed for the job.

In the response, Nickles also said the panel met the requirements of the takeover law. He did not, however, reveal the names and résumés of other candidates considered by the mayor.

Despite the law's requirement that the panel receive copies of candidates' résumés, Nickles said that the "shortness of time and uncertainty of events" made it impossible to do so. Nickles said that he looks forward to the council's prompt confirmation of Rhee and "to continuing our joint efforts to improve our school system."

Aupperle, a member of the Washington Teachers' Union, said he is concerned that lawmakers and residents may focus on the process rather than Rhee's qualifications.

"I personally don't think that traditional wisdom is going to get us out of this mess," said Aupperle, a fifth-grade teacher. "I think we need some out-of-the box thinking."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company