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Rhee passes up bonus

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's name surfaced in this week's Examiner story about the $15 million in bonuses awarded since Mayor Adrian M. Fenty took office in Jan. 2007. The paper reported that Rhee received $41,250 in 2007 "after barely two months on the job." In fact, the sum wasn't for stellar performance during her first weeks in town, but a signing bonus paid under the terms of her contract with the city.

The agreement says she's also eligible for an annual "performance incentive bonus" of up to ten percent of her $275,000 base salary. Existing contracts are not covered by the October law the council passed to curb the bonus spree, so Rhee remains eligible. But, for the second year in a row, she says she's passed on the extra dough.

"I don't think it's right to take a bonus when the city and district are in the financial situation we face," Rhee said in an e-mail.

Under the contract terms, Fenty can pay a bonus on the basis of "Student Academic Achievement and Improvement; Financial Systems and Management; School Facilities Maintenance, Improvement and New Construction; Student and Staff Safety and Security; Staff Improvement; Communications with Community and Families, and Technology."

Test scores, including the fourth and eighth grade math performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, are up. It also looks like the persistent decline in DCPS enrollment might at least be leveling off. But Rhee's vocal critics on the council and in the community might not give her high grades in some areas, especially after disputes over her handling of this fall's budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Construction and maintenance issues are a part of school building czar Allen Lew's portfolio.

Nevertheless, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway, Fenty could have left something in her stocking.

"She was entitled to it and she declined," Calloway said.

The contract also provides Rhee with a nice chunk of change should Fenty, or his successor, decide that someone else should lead the school system. If the mayor removes her for any reasons other than "criminal conduct," "gross dereliction of duty," or "gross misconduct," she's eligible for a severance package of up to three months of salary and accrued leave, plus up to an additional three months of administrative leave. Same would apply if she chose to resign for what the agreement calls "good cause."

It doesn't elaborate on what that means exactly.

Bill Turque

For all the Post's Education coverage, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education

By Bill Turque  |  December 18, 2009; 2:47 PM ET
 
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