Deputy Mayor Chided by Council

Victor Reinoso was to have named independent reviewers to critique mayoral governance of the school system seven months ago.
Victor Reinoso was to have named independent reviewers to critique mayoral governance of the school system seven months ago. (By Pouya Dianat -- The Washington Post)
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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 24, 2008

D.C. Council members at a hearing yesterday criticized Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso for a seven-month delay in naming independent researchers to conduct a required long-term evaluation of the school system's new governance.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration, under the legislation that put him in charge of the schools, was required to name a team of evaluators in September 2007 to study how the new structure affects student achievement over time. The study will examine changes initiated by School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, including the introduction of new business operations, teacher hiring and training procedures and plans to close and reorganize about 50 schools.

But council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) questioned whether the researchers, nominated in April, would be able to produce a credible report by September. Because researchers are starting so late, he said, they would have to rely on the school system's data rather than their own research. The time frame "is a source of extreme concern," Gray said. "I don't even know if we can guarantee that the data was gathered in an appropriate way."

"We missed our deadline. That was an oversight on our part," Reinoso said. "We think we can move forward rigorously and vigorously."

Reinoso is trying to hire Kenneth Wong, chairman of the Brown University School of Education, and Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Reinoso said both have extensively studied mayoral takeover in other cities.

Wong said the extensive experience he and Hess have in studying school systems under mayoral authority "will allow us to bring ourselves up to speed rather quickly."

"We are committed to make sure we'll have the most accurate data," Wong said. "Our general position is that we want to make the research available to everybody so they can form their opinions on mayoral takeover."

In an interview, Gray said the evaluation would cost $750,000 over five years. He expressed concern that the study would be paid for by an organization called the Public Education Fund.

He said the fund is run by Sara Lasner, who previously worked for Fenty. Members of the fund's board include Joel I. Klein, chancellor of the New York City public schools; and Ben Soto, who was treasurer of Fenty's mayoral campaign.

"I still don't understand why they went the route they went -- why they're funding it this way," Gray said.

"This is an independent evaluation. It shouldn't be funded by a private entity." With public dollars, the evaluation "would be more transparent," he said.

Gray, at the hearing, also questioned how impartial the evaluators would be, given that Wong testified in favor of the D.C. mayoral takeover legislation and that Hess wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post last September praising Rhee.

Reinoso said the two have been critical of how some cities have implemented mayoral takeover of schools and would bring a "skeptical eye" to their research.

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