DCPS: Chancellor Rhee, Mayor Fenty May Be Following a Consultant’s Plan


According to The Washington Post , there was a rally by parents of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) students against Mayor Adrian Fenty’s and Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s plan to close schools and convert central office employees to at-will status. There was an interesting quote in the article:

Jeff Smith, executive director of D.C. Voice, questioned the sincerity of the administration’s interest in what parents say.”Instead, people will think that they’re just really looking for approval of a predetermined plan,” Smith said.

Mayor Fenty hired the consulting firm of Alvarez and Marsal to review the finances of DCPS. The managing director of Alvarez and Marsal, William Roberti, ran St. Louis Public Schools for a year.

It was billed as the next big idea in education, a way forward for struggling school systems everywhere. Plagued by falling enrollment and dismal test scores, the St. Louis school district hired a big-name New York bankruptcy firm to turn things around for a one-time fee of $5 million.


During his 13 months as superintendent of St. Louis public schools, former Brooks Brothers chief executive William V. Roberti closed 21 schools, lopped $79 million off the school budget, privatized many school services and laid off more than 1,000 employees. He stepped down in June at the end of his contract, proclaiming that the district had made “tremendous strides” toward putting its affairs in order, reversing decades of financial mismanagement.

The result of Alvarez and Marsal’s work were that administrators were hired for six figure salaries, while teachers in the classroom did not receive a raise, and parents were upset about school closures.

Three months into a new school year, many teachers, parents and students in St. Louis were asking what they have gained from the whirlwind unleashed by the gruff, straight-talking retail executive. Student enrollment continues to decline, teachers complain about poor morale and low pay, parents are unhappy about school closures, and voters are up in arms about high salaries paid to top administrators.

In DC, where Alvarez and Marsal is working, Rhee has also hired high salaried administrators causing an increase of a deficit in the DCPS’s budget.

[Pamela] Graham [DCPS Chief Financial Officer] attributed some of the deficit to what she called Rhee’s improper hiring and promotion of 132 employees. “The practice of overriding process and procedure in hiring new employees must not continue,” Graham wrote in the Nov. 21 memo.

There are other similarities. Roberti in St. Louis, found unused supplies in warehouses and a worse deficit than expected among other events.

Rhee has also found supplies in a warehouse (see also a Washington Post article on this point).

JOHN MERROW: When teachers complained about not receiving textbooks on time, she paid a visit to the central warehouse.


MICHELLE RHEE: By the time I got onto the second floor, I thought I was going to throw up. I actually felt nauseous because of what I was seeing. It was boxes and boxes of glue and scissors and composition books, binders, boxes of unopened trade books, class sets of novels, things that teachers not only are dying for but spend their own money on.

DCPS could also be facing a worsening financial condition.

In October, Fenty and Rhee asked the council to approve a one-time expenditure of $81 million to cover a projected $35 million shortfall and the cost of restructuring the central office.


Yesterday, Rhee told council members that she had not informed them that the shortfall had increased by $66 million because she does not agree with Graham’s analysis and wanted to meet with her before giving the information to the council. “We don’t believe that a lot of that information was accurate,” she said.

Because DC has hired Alvarez and Marsal, it is possible that Fenty is implementing Alvarez and Marsal’s plan (possibly adapted from its St. Louis experience).

This could explain Rhee’s and Fenty’s decisions without consulting parents or the DC Council. For example,  Fenty’s plan to close 24 schools (there was a heated meeting in Ward 5 over the plan).

Also, it could explain the news making breakfast meeting between Fenty and the DC Council. Here is one exchange between Council Member Jim Graham and Mayor Fenty.

Graham explained that he thought a Ward Council Member should be part of any decision made on school closing in their Ward. “I thought I’d have a bigger role,” he said to Fenty.


Fenty was quick to respond. He leaned across the table and stretched his arm toward Graham and told him that Council Members don’t dictate police deployment, “But that hasn’t stopped you from sending hundreds of emails, calling assistant police chiefs, calling me, to get more cops in your Ward. I suggest you put the same energy in to the schools.


It was the most forceful Fenty had been. He didn’t raise his voice, but he made a point that resonated with everyone in that room. It was a moment, that defined the change of temperature in the room. And it as about to get a lot hotter.


As Graham recoiled back in his seat, he fired off one last shot across the bow.” Don’t plan on selling any buildings…” Before he could even finish his thought, much less his sentence, Fenty said in a firm tone, “Let’s not start threatening people, I don’t think you want to threaten me.”


At that point every council member began talking, asking for clarification of what Graham had said. Voices were raised by several council members “That came out wrong,” one of them said.


Then Graham rose from his seat, walked over to Fenty and whispered something in his ear, then returned to his seat.

The possible implentation of a consultant’s plan should be monitored. Apparently, the employee unions may already be aware of the possibility.

“Have you heard? Reform of D.C. public schools has been hijacked. Mayor Fenty and his posse of consultants and contractors have hijacked the reform process,” a female narrator says in the ad.

Related links:

For more information about William Roberti’s (of Alvarez and Marsal) work for St. Louis’s public schools, see the following: Demolition Man and Trouble with the New Math.

DC considered Alvarez and Marsal in 2004. See the article, Can D.C.’s Search Make the Grade? A quote from the column that could provide information about Chancellor Rhee’s and Mayor Fenty’s method of making decisions.

As it happens, one of the men who turned Washington down, Carl Cohn, described in detail what he thinks needs to be done. Cohn told The Washington Post, “It has to be made clear to everyone that this is about the kids. Then you bring in a take-no-prisoners company that addresses the fundamental issues of operation, of people not doing their jobs.”

On this point, see an article at Education Week for a critique of Chancellor Rhee.