Rhee to Be Highest-Paid School Head in D.C. Area

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 4, 2007; B01

Acting D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will be paid $275,000 annually and will receive a $41,250 signing bonus if she is confirmed, making her the highest-paid school leader in the immediate metropolitan area.

According to a contract Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) submitted to the D.C. Council yesterday, Rhee is also eligible for a $27,500 annual bonus if she meets certain performance goals identified by Fenty that include "student academic achievement" and "communications with community and families." The mayor and Rhee together will agree to the terms on which she will be evaluated.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he is especially eager to know how Rhee will be judged. "This is the critical provision of the contract. . . . What will be the performance requirements?" Gray said.

Former superintendent Clifford B. Janey earned $274,000 this year plus a $25,000 bonus awarded by the former D.C. Board of Education. Like Janey, Rhee will receive a driver and a vehicle as part of her compensation. The next-highest-paid school superintendent in a neighboring county is Jack D. Dale in Fairfax, whose annual base salary is $266,292.

The contract came a day after Rhee's confirmation hearing, during which more than a dozen witnesses from New York to California praised her commitment to underprivileged children and her singleminded drive to improve urban education -- first as a schoolteacher for three years in Baltimore, and later as executive director of the New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit she founded.

Rhee, 37, will be paid the signing bonus 30 days after she is confirmed. The council is scheduled to vote July 10.

Several council members said during Rhee's hearing Monday that she is energetic and came highly recommended, but some questioned how her limited classroom experience and her role leading a nonprofit qualify her to manage the school system, which has 11,500 employees and an annual budget of nearly $1 billion.

Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), who told Rhee she wasn't sure how her experience is connected to managing a school system, said she thought the salary is appropriate for the job.

"I will go on record and say that I will think outside of the box on the contract, as long as she thinks outside of the box for the best outcomes for our students," Alexander said.

But council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who asked Rhee about her employment terms during the hearing, was upset that the contract came to light after the public hearing and blamed the mayor for mishandling the process.

"I thought Michelle Rhee was very impressive, and so the talk in the hallways was about how she had hit a home run," Mendelson said. "But now the discussion is going to be about how much she's getting paid."

Fenty surprised residents and city leaders when he ousted Janey less than an hour before gaining control of the schools June 12 and named Rhee as acting chancellor. He did not provide a copy of her résumé before she was appointed to a review panel, as mandated by the school takeover law.

"I think the way the mayor has handled this is doing a disservice to Ms. Rhee by creating controversy where it's not needed," Mendelson said.

The city has offered Janey a severance package of $250,000 plus the value of his accrued leave, health insurance plan and pension, but he has not accepted the offer, said general counsel Peter Nickles. Janey's attorney could not be reached for comment.

Nickles said that Rhee was offered the signing bonus to compensate her for having to sell her house in Colorado, which she bought in 2004 with her husband, Kevin Huffman, whom she is divorcing.

If Rhee is fired or quits for "good cause," she will receive up to 24 weeks of pay, the contract states.

The contract stipulates that Rhee, who has two children, must live in the District. Sources said that she has looked at houses in Mount Pleasant and Brightwood and has told friends that wherever she lives, she wants to send her daughters, Starr, 8, and Olivia, 5, to the neighborhood school.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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