Yesterday, after the D.C. Council voted to hold back on some $27 million in D.C. Public Schools funding, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wasted no time writing a nastygram [PDF] to Vincent C. Gray and his colleagues.

The letter laid out all the money that would have to be pulled from schools—-itemized and broken down by ward. (Smart move: Hey, Harry Thomas, want to explain to your constituents why you voted to cut $3.9 million from Ward 5 schools?)

This wasn’t the first letter Rhee had sent Gray and the council.

Last week, she had sent another missive [PDF], asking the council to reconsider its moves to cut the budget of the Deputy Mayor of Education’s office and to remove the State Board of Education from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Rhee says the council moves, which were ratified yesterday, “begin to erode the structure established by and the progress which has ensued under” school reform legislation passed in 2007.

Much of the letter concerns the decision to take the Interagency Collaboration and Service Integration Commission (aka ICSIC—-“ick-sick”) out of DME Victor Reinoso‘s shop and put it in the DCPS Office of Youth Engagement. That office, Rhee writes, “is building twilight programs, student attendance and truancy initiatives, and the Youth Engagement Academy,” and as such “cannot take on the additional responsibilities of ICSIC without diverting its focus from these other important initiatives.” Better, she says, to leave it with Reinoso, where it “has the force of the Mayor’s office to coordinate across agencies and the dedicated focus and resources which would otherwise be lost in the day-to-day functions of another agency.”

Rhee also takes issue with the council’s move to pump up the SBOE’s independence, saying it is “likely to lessen the policy focus of the Board and create the temptation to micromanage” and claiming that moving the school ombudsman’s office under their aegis “is likely to politicize” that operation.

In closing, she writes, “we need to continue our progress within the structure and the time line promulgated by the Act. It is too early to turn back.”

Full letter after the jump.

May 5, 2009

The Honorable Vincent C. Gray, Chairman Council of the District of Columbia 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 504 Washington D.C. 20004

Dear Chairman Gray:

I respectfully ask you to reconsider the recommendations made by the Committee of the Whole (“COW”), which begin to erode the structure established by and the progress which has ensued under the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (“the Act”). In April 2007, the Council took the bold step of passing the Act and giving the Mayor control of the public school system. At its heart, the Act sought to improve student achievement by clearly defining the various functions of the different educational agencies and affording time for the reform to occur. More specifically, the Council was explicit in its desire to create an environment that allowed the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) to focus on the central business of the teaching and learning, in part by protecting the school system from functions that served to distract from this singular focus. Even more importantly, the Council wisely established a five-year commitment to measure the success of the new governance structure. The multi-year time frame acknowledged what we know: Real change and real results take time.

Last week, the COW recommended changes which undo key components of the Act. If adopted by the Council, the COW’s recommendations will undercut the defined structure, the dedicated focus and the five-year timeframe established by the Act. These changes will be particularly challenging less than two years into our collective reform efforts. The recommendations also move away from the structure and focus of the Act, which charged other entities with assuming responsibilities once entrusted, but often ignored, by DCPS.

We are beginning to see the results of some initiatives embedded in the Act, such as the Interagency Collaboration and Service Integration Commission (“ICSIC”). Among its many accomplishments in the first 18 months, ICSIC has launched DC START, the District’s first evidence-based early intervention program aimed at reducing the number of children and families who slip into crisis; led to the receipt of federal grant dollars for school emergency preparation and planning and provided innovative training for MPD School Resource Officers; produced a Children’s Health Action Plan and begun work on a citywide school health strategy; and created a vetting program that has increased the quality of afterschool programs provided by community-based partners in schools together around a common agenda focused on shared challenges and results. The impact of providing these “wrap around services” to our children is significant.

I attribute the success of ICSIC in large part to the fact that the Deputy Mayor of Education (“DME”) has the force of the Mayor’s office to coordinate across agencies and the dedicated focus and resources which would otherwise be lost in the day-to-day functions of another agency. This model has been proven in both the private and public sector. It is proving itself in the District.

At this time, DCPS has neither the dedicated focus nor ability to continue this important work at this level. The Office of Youth Engagement (“OYE”), which the COW has proposed to oversee ICSIC, has existed for only a few short months. OYE is building twilight programs, student attendance and truancy initiatives, and the Youth Engagement Academy. Next year, OYE will take on the mammoth task of implementing the new student discipline policy. At this time, it cannot take on the additional responsibilities of ICSIC without diverting its focus from these other important initiatives.

I also question the COW’s recommendation to move the Office of the Ombudsperson to an expanded office of the State Board of Education. At its current staffing level, the State Board of Education has clearly focused on state policy level functions such as adopting academic standards and state rules in key areas like attendance, residency and truancy. The proposed increase to 18, including the Ombudsman office, positions is beyond the staffing for other comparable state boards and likely to lessen the policy focus of the Board and create the temptation to micromanage. I believe the transfer of the Ombudsman to an expanded State Board is likely to politicize the Ombudsman’s office that has responded to over 1,000 parent and community concerns.

Chairman Gray, we need to continue our progress within the structure and the time line promulgated by the Act. It is too early to turn back. I respectfully ask that you reconsider the changes proposed in the COW’s recommendations relative to the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget.

Michelle A. Rhee Chancellor

Cc: Mayor Adrian M. Fenty Members of the Council of the District of Columbia