Educational Entitlement

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

IN THE DEBATE about bringing change to the District's troubled schools, there's been much talk about putting the interests of students first. But self-interest seems to top the agenda as evidenced by the big money demands coming from both the incoming and outgoing school leadership.

First, a word on the gall of ousted Superintendent Clifford B. Janey. There's no question that Mr. Janey was treated shabbily by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), but his demand for an extra year of full severance pay beyond the one specified in his contract is as outrageous as his refusal to talk to his successor. Then comes a lesson on how not to begin a new administration from Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, with a big assist from Mr. Fenty. Her plan to pay two aides $200,000, exceeding a $152,686 District cap, has sparked a dust-up with the D.C. Council. She's also offering six-figure salaries to half a dozen other people on her staff. This comes after some concern over her own pay. Instead of the $250,000 first proposed, Ms. Rhee is being paid $275,000 plus a $41,250 signing bonus plus a possible performance bonus of $27,500. Keep in mind that Ms. Rhee makes more than her counterparts in Montgomery and Fairfax, who preside over far larger systems. Consider also that her office has been relieved of responsibility for school facilities (now the domain of Allen Y. Lew, who also has a $275,000 salary).

Given the magnitude of the task she faces, perhaps her salary is understandable. But what about the generous paychecks being proposed for her staff? Kaya Henderson, who worked with Ms. Rhee on the New Teacher Project, is being offered what amounts to a $70,000 raise to serve as deputy chancellor. Ms. Henderson lives locally, so there's not even the excuse of relocation costs. This proposed salary is larger than that of the police or fire chief and the same as Mr. Fenty's; we won't contrast it with what the average teacher makes. City officials say such salaries are the only way to get the best talent, that they are comparable to other cities, and that officials will be working long hours. The D.C. Council was right to balk until a more thoughtful examination of the executive pay structure can take place in September.

It's troubling that issues related to pay have developed so soon after Mr. Fenty's takeover of the schools. After all, a top-heavy and fat bureaucracy was one of the problems he set out to solve.

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