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ISO: A CFO for Michelle Rhee

The Natwar Gandhi-Michelle Rhee showdown before the D.C. Council is a day away, but the District Chief Financial Officer was preparing Wednesday afternoon. Gandhi, at odds with the schools chancellor over financing of the proposed teachers' union contract, told a council committee that the reason he's had four deputies in three years overseeing DCPS finances is the "extremely difficult" work environment at the schools agency.

The assertion came during a rare open discussion of a personnel matter, this one involving former DCPS finance officer Noah Wepman, who left District government last year following his admission to the council that he didn't keep Gandhi in the loop on fiscal pressures in the school system.

Gandhi told council finance committee chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) that he always tries to find CFOs who are agreeable to the heads of the agencies he oversees. In this case, he said he tried to accommodate Rhee, who wanted Wepman. But he also cautions all of his new deputies, he said, not to forget who they answer to.

"I tell the new person, 'Look we both have chosen you. But, one, at the end of the day let's never forget you are part of the independent chief financial officers' office. And two, I get to fire you.

"And in the case of Mr. Wepman, in retrospect that was mistake...That is the reason he's no longer there. But I must say Mr. Chairman and Mr. Barry, it is not easy to find people to go the schools to work as chief financial officer, no matter what money you are willing to give them. And Friday's hearing is not going to make things any easier. Yes, there have been a series of CFOs there because it is an extremely difficult environment to work in. You are constantly at odds. And indeed, you are serving two masters," meaning Rhee and Gandhi.

Rhee's current CFO, George Dines, is serving on an interim basis.

Gandhi did not elaborate on the difficulties, although the implication is that the pressure to say "yes" to Rhee on spending issues is considerable.Wepman did not respond to e-mail requests for comment Thursday morning. Rhee replied to an email but did not respond to Gandhi's statement.

Evans said that the current conflicts not withstanding, the system of independent CFOs handling agency finances still serves the District well.

"I too get a lot of pushback on that," he said. "I only have to remind people what it was like 15 years ago when each agency head had its own CFO and, frankly, the information we got was absolutely ludicrous....I don't care who's in charge, if it's the most important or impressive people in the world in charge of these agencies. I don't trust them to be able to do their books right."

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By Bill Turque  |  April 29, 2010; 12:57 PM ET
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I hope Ghandi feels that accomodating Rhee is not the objective anymore. As long as she stays, her budget needs to be highly scrutinized. She's proven to be an inefficient fiscal manager. Assign the CFO that can best tell Rhee "NO" and tell her to deal with it. If the buck stops with Ghandi then she should never have the opportunity to throw him under the bus again. In the event that she tries, make sure she's the one who hollers OUCH!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | April 29, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Good, I'm glad the district can't hire CFOs. When the economy improves, it won't be able to hire qualified teachers either.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 29, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Neither side should sign any contract that is based on the "kindness of strangers" and "now you see it, now you don't" financial "plans".

Posted by: citizenw | April 29, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Neither side should sign any contract that is based on the "kindness of strangers" and "now you see it, now you don't" financial "plans".

Posted by: citizenw | April 29, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

This entire issue reveals the many problems with Chancellor Rhee's leadership practices. The fact that she can't admit to her errors and blames the CFO office is just incredulous.

Also, the point about the difficulty in attracting a CFO for DCPS because Rhee is such a bully also rings true for principals. The reality is that she cannot attract many qualified principals because of her leadership style and maltreatment of her employees.

As a DCPS parent it is infuriating to see one person cause such havoc on schools. When can we say enough is enough?

Posted by: letsbereal2 | April 29, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

DCPS not only needs a new CFO, but the District govt as a whole is long overdue for one. Time for Nat G to retire. He forgets he works for the people, ultimately, not the government's internal special interests. It is a miracle he is still there after presiding while 50 mil dollars was stolen within his organization. His powers of observation and professional judgment about people and responsibilities will forever be subject to doubt after that fiasco.

Posted by: axolotl | April 29, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I do not understand why the Chancellor and the CFO are having this discussion in public. Professionally, shouldn't this debate be happening behind 'close doors' with our Mayor?

Posted by: mrpozzi | April 29, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

So when is Joann Armao going to write an editorial blaming everything on the CFO's or Ghandi again.

I keep wondering, in light of all the diastrous things Rhee has done, why does Joann Armao keep writing wonderful things about her. What is going on behind the scenes here?

Posted by: aby1 | April 29, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

To mrpozzi - too many decisions have been made behind closed doors and under rocks. The reason Gandhi is speaking out in public is because Rhee and Fenty continue to lie to the public. Rhee and Fenty would not recognize professionalism it slapped them in their lying faces.

Axolotl - After Gandhi testifies on Friday and sets the record straight perhaps he will retire. I doubt he will leave this post as long as Fenty and Rhee continue to go after him.

Also, when do you think Noah W. should be taken of the city payroll?

Finally, Rhee and Fenty also work for the public and not the special interest from New York, Wal-Mart, and the Gates, etc.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | April 29, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

fmurray20011: I agree the Wepman should leave. As for "work[ing] for the public and not the special interest," let's take a look at the subset of DC teachers who appear in WaPo comment boards and other blogues. This subset of teachers want guaranteed lifetime jobs; they resist being evaluated; they do not agree to conduct education (they believe parental inattention and socio-economic issues give them the ability to not be responsible for more than showing up and going through some motions); bash any outside party, e.g., not born in the area/not lifelong teachers/and worse; they tend to discount any observation or feedback from parents and citizen-taxpayers.
In other words, many self-identified teachers who comment here, and many of their supporters here, do not appear to be working for the public but rather themselves. The kids they teach rarely come up except as bad problems for teachers. This kind of teacher should be canned. The good ones who know who their "customers" are and have the attributes of public service, plus the willingness to Educate, rather than give up on and disrespect the very kids in their classes, should stay. They easily stand out and merit our sincere thanks and even better pay than they receive today.

Posted by: axolotl | April 30, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

It's hard to find a competent CFO to work for Rhee! What a surprise! The same could also be said for principles, administratos, teachers and anyone else. Why would any competent person whant to work for an incompetent ignoramus? Not that it matters, clearly professinal competence is not important to Rhee and Fenty. Just look at the people they HAVE hired.

Posted by: mcstowy | April 30, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse


I notice you are always referring to a subset of teachers who want a job for life or self-described teachers who put themselves first with much distain.

Do you have the same feelings toward doctors, lawyers, etc who practice for life or is this hatred directed towards teachers only.

Your could stop dumping on teachers and get into your neighborhood school to volunteer since you know what makes a great teacher and what needs to be done to improve our schools.

You keep making the same points over and over again as though by repeating these statements will give them more creditability.

I will wait for your usual attack on someone who disagrees or questions your attitude.

Posted by: bnew100 | April 30, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

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