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Posted at 9:45 AM ET, 02/24/2011

New deputy mayor for education gets gentle council treatment

By Bill Turque

By the standards of recent D.C. Council oversight hearings for the deputy mayor of education, this one was a breeze. That's because the deputy mayor in the witness chair Wednesday afternoon was not Victor Reinoso, but De'Shawn Wright, newly appointed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

Reinoso, a former Board of Education member, launched some pilot programs and helped charter schools find buildings, but was largely elbowed to the margins by former chancellor Michelle Rhee and school construction czar (now city administrator) Allen Lew, who ran their operations with unquestioned authority. Reinoso's credibility with the council was badly damaged in 2007 with the disclosure that whole passages from a report produced by his office were lifted from a Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. school system strategic plan. Reinoso never acknowledged writing the document but accepted responsibility for it. He was also a convenient target for the council's displaced hostility toward former Mayor Adrian Fenty (D).

Wright, 35, a former education adviser for Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) and a founding partner of the Newark Charter School Fund, said he wasn't interested in litigating the past.

"I'm not here today to make excuses for what hasn't been," he told a lightly attended hearing (just Chairman Kwame Brown (D) and Council members Sekou Biddle (D-At Large) and David Catania (I-At Large))

Wright faced some skepticism about the need for a deputy mayor for education, especially given the city's budget predicament. "I'm trying to find a justification for the continuation of this deputy mayor's office," Catania said.

Wright said he saw it as his mission to bring all the institutions and constituencies that define the city's public education sector--public, public charter, OSSE, OPEFM-- into closer coordination, serving Gray's vision of a unified "zero to 24" system. That includes finding initiatives that are working on a small scale and growing them.

"There are good intentioned people doing good work in separate silos," Wright said.

Council members had no shortage of assignments for Wright to consider: data collection, parental involvement, truancy, early intervention into behavioral problems. Wright dutifully jotted notes and agreed they were all good things for a deputy mayor to take on. He's clearly still finding his way around. Reinoso holdover Jennifer Leonard, serving as his interim chief of staff, helped Wright field questions. He made a favorable, if early, impression.

"I sense the earnestness with which you take the job," Catania said.

As the hearing broke up however, Brown counseled him that it wouldn't always be so cozy, especially when he comes back to talk about budgeting for an office some council members have doubts about.

"Just a heads up," Brown said.

By Bill Turque  | February 24, 2011; 9:45 AM ET
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Given the city's budget predicament, I'm trying to find a justification for the continuation of paying for your Lincoln Navigator...Just a heads up.

Posted by: ward5dem | February 24, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

If Mr. Wright (and other high level dc officials, including the council) were willing to take salaries more like 2 or 3 times the median income in DC, one fewer Navigator lease would cover it. I think all the people in DC government, elected or appointed who earn more than $100K should take a pay cut to be more in line with people who live here and have regular jobs. Might not go a long way to closing the budget gap, but would create some respect from the rank and file who are going to feel the axe.

Posted by: Mulch5 | February 24, 2011 6:24 PM | Report abuse

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