Last Friday, Alexandria Superintendent of Schools, Rebecca L. Perry, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated. On Tuesday night, the Alexandria School Board voted to give her a raise.
"A little piece of democracy died here in Alexandria this spring,” said Lee Quill, the parent of a school-age child who attends Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy.
The Board has come under widespread criticism over the past week since parents learned that they were proposing to give Perry a raise. Board chair Mark O. Wilkoff said that the raise was not merit based and was included in Perry’s contract. The clause in the contract calls for Perry to receive a raise each year of her tenure, based on the average raise given to all school system employees.
While that raise won’t be calculated until after July 1, it is expected to be between $10,000 and $15,000, making her base salary for next year between $178,000 and $183,000, more than Alexandria’s city manager earns.
“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck,” said Board member Kenneth L. Foran, who spoke against Perry’s raise. He made a motion to reconsider the entire matter of retaining Perry and thus, her contract at Tuesday’s Board meeting. That motion was defeated by a 7-2 margin. Vice chair Gwendolyn Lewis supported Foran.
Board member Arthur Schmalz voted to retain Perry and to give her the proposed raise. “The Board made a deal with Mrs. Perry and we can’t walk away from that,” he said. “…We have to live with it.”
Another board member, Molly Danforth, expressed her anger at what she called Foran’s “late conversion.” “Why didn’t you raise these issues before,” she asked and then told Foran that she didn’t want him to respond.
Foran responded nevertheless, saying, “I’ve thought about this and changed my mind,” he told her and the rest of the Board.
Perry was arrested on April 23 and charged with driving while intoxicated and crossing a double yellow line. She had been drinking at Joe Theismann’s Restaurant with a school employee and Board member Melissa W. Luby. She pleaded guilty to the DWI charge and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, suspended; a fine of $300; ordered to attend alcohol prevention classes and her license was suspended for one year.
Her attorney argued that she should be allowed to immediately apply for a restricted license so that she can drive to and from work but the judge rejected this. She is eligible to apply for that restricted license once she has completed her alcohol classes.
AFTER PERRY'S guilty plea, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille contacted School Board members about Perry’s proposed raise. “Any type of a raise is just not appropriate,” he said. “The chairman told me that this increase was part of her previous contract and that if they don’t honor it they will be in breach. I think she violated the terms of the contract to begin with by drinking and driving so that reasoning doesn’t seem very valid.
“They can do what they want, of course, but I warned them that they may suffer the consequences at the polls because people are very distressed about this,” Euille said.
In the end, the Board voted to shorten Perry’s contract by one year. It now ends in June, 2005.
“Basically, for driving drunk, she got a week’s paid vacation and a raise,” said Jim Boissonault, the parent of a Lyles-Crouch student. “I have asked her to donate her $650 per month car allowance to Students Against Destructive Decisions until such time as she gets her license back, but haven’t gotten any kind of response.
“I’m also very concerned about the behavior of Board members. At the last Board meeting when Mr. Foran was speaking, four of them wrote notes to each other, rolled their eyes and laughed. I think they behaved worse than elementary school children. I think they are in clear violation of their code of ethics.
“Also, the fact that Melissa Luby was voting on this matter is outrageous. She was drinking with Ms. Perry when she was arrested,” he said.