On the Same Team?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

GIVEN THE troubles facing D.C. schools, city officials ought to have better things to do than play games with them. One would hope that the children's interests would come first. Sadly, though, the politics of personality that too often hobbled past efforts at school reform are cropping up between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).

Mr. Gray said yesterday that there will be a delay in council confirmation of Victor Reinoso as deputy mayor for education. Votes are set today on Michelle A. Rhee as chancellor and Allen Y. Lew as school facilities manager, but Mr. Reinoso's name was held back, with Mr. Gray expressing concerns about his leadership skills. It's clear, though, that the real reason for any delay is Mr. Gray's ire at how the mayor selected Ms. Rhee and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Lew. That Mr. Gray felt shut out of the process is no reason to hold up this key nomination; we hope that by this morning Mr. Gray will have had a change of heart and will allow a vote to occur.

To do otherwise is unfair to Mr. Reinoso and to the 55,000-student system he is overseeing. Mr. Reinoso, a former elected member of the school board, has been doing the job since January -- enough time for a judgment and, in our view, a positive one. Inaction would continue the air of uncertainty over who runs the schools. Mr. Reinoso would continue as acting deputy mayor, but there would be a cloud over his head, undercutting his standing to deal with contentious issues. Why deny Mr. Fenty the team he feels he needs to start the arduous work of making the schools better? Conversely, if the council feels that Mr. Reinoso is not fit for his job, wouldn't it be wise to act sooner rather than later? After all, next month brings the first day of school.

Reports of rivalry between Mr. Fenty and Mr. Gray are worrisome, not only for school reform but for the overall betterment of the city. Progress depends on cooperation, and we would urge Mr. Fenty and Mr. Gray to work harder at building a partnership. Each has an important role. With all due respect to Mr. Gray's hurt feelings, Mr. Fenty acted appropriately as an executive in search of the people he sees as best able to carry out his mandate. Now comes the council's turn. It has the right to question the mayor's choice (be it about qualifications or compensation), but it should make its decision on the merits, and it should do so today.


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