School board hears from vocal public

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The Alexandria School Board listened to a parade of speakers last Wednesday night who came to criticize the Boards decision not to renew Superintendent Rebecca L. Perrys contract when it expires next June. Of the 15 speakers, only two supported the Boards action and they were booed by the audience.

The Board members who have decided not to renew the superintendents contract owe the public an explanation, said Ferdinand Day.

I understand the need to keep personnel decisions confidential but you should have held a public hearing and listened to what parents and other members of the community have to say, said Cathy Puscar.

Jim Boissonault presented data about the school systems progress and lack thereof under Perry. While it is true that we have narrowed the achievement gap between minority students and white students in some areas, we have widened it in others, he said. Math scores at George Washington Middle School, for example, have gone down for everyone, but particularly for minority students.

School Board Chairman Arthur Peabody cautioned everyone about demanding public input into a personnel matter. I have done some research about holding public hearings about contract renewals and have found that neither ACPS nor the city has ever held a public hearing about renewing a superintendents or a city managers contract, he said. As a matter of fact, the superintendents contract, which is a public document and available to anyone who requests a copy, prohibits public discussion. As a matter of fact, my research has found that the superintendent herself asked that this clause be included in her contract.

The contract, originally signed in June, 2004 and renewed in November of that same year, states with regard to contract renewal: All aspects of such discussions about the renewal of the contract with the division superintendent shall be treated confidentially and shall be held in closed session

The contract negotiations between Perry and the previous Board, held in June, 2004, after she pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated were not public. At that time, the Board reduced the term of her contract by one year, so that it would have expired in June, 2005. In November, less than six months later, the same Board extended Perrys contract to June, 2008. There was no public hearing before that decision was made.

Speakers at last weeks meeting also asked how the Board could have made the decision not to renew Perrys contract without a performance evaluation. Under the terms of her contract, such evaluations are also confidential and are generally conducted at the last Board meeting of the year before summer recess.

Tiny Titans
The Board did conduct some business last week, approving a contract with The Campagna Center to operate a daycare center at the new high school. The program will offer daycare to T.C. students who have children and to staff members children in cases where they are eligible. The center will also serve as a place where T.C. students interested in becoming childcare workers can receive training. A childcare curriculum is offered under T. C.s career and technical education options.

While the decision was unanimous, it was not without controversy. In February, when the program was first presented to the Board, the superintendent recommended signing the contact with The Campagna Center without going through a public bid process usually required for new programs. When Board member Claire Eberwein raised that issue, the superintendent said that a request for proposal would be done and the contract opened for public bid. In March, the Board received a copy of the RFP and a memorandum from Dr. Margaret Walsh recommending that The Campagna Center be awarded the contract under an extension of an existing city contract.

While I am going to vote for this contract award because I have no doubt that The Campagna Center is very capable of fulfilling these requirements, I am deeply disturbed by the process, Eberwein said at last weeks meeting.
The daycare center will open in September when the new school opens.

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