Alexandria School Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry is back at work after a week's leave with pay and a vote by the School Board to retain her after she was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Perry was arrested shortly after midnight on April 23, by an Alexandria police officer who observed her driving erratically and crossing a double yellow line. According to police, she failed to pass a sobriety test, was arrested and released to James Luby, the husband of School Board member, Melissa Luby, who had been drinking with Perry at Joe Theismann's restaurant. Melissa Luby was in the car with Perry at the time of the arrest.
Perry does not drive a school-owned vehicle but receives a $650 per month car allowance. She was arrested less than three hours after leaving a meeting with parents at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy where she heard from them about her decision to move the school's long-time principal, Lucretia Jackson to Maury Elementary School.
The Board held three closed-door sessions to discuss Perry's fate. When the vote finally came, a week after Perry's arrest, the Board voted 7-1 to retain Perry as the superintendent. But there were sanctions.
Board chair Mark Wilkoff, explained the Board's decision after the April 29 vote, saying, "In the short-term, it is often far easier to terminate a leader who makes a serious mistake than it is to sort through the pain to determine if justification remains for retention and redemption," he said.
"Ms. Perry's decision to drink and drive was a serious lapse in judgment. Serious consequences should follow. At the same time, it is also clear that Ms. Perry has been a tremendous asset to the Alexandria city public schools..."
THE BOARD HAD grounds for termination. Under the terms of Perry's contract, as amended June 5, 2003, "The Board may assess a reasonable fine upon, suspend from office or discharge the Division superintendent for sufficient cause in accordance with the provisions of VA Code Section 22.1-65...failure in the Division superintendent's performance or her repeated neglect of duty. Or, commission by the superintendent of any act or omission constituting dishonesty, fraud, immoral or disreputable conduct. Or, convictions as set forth in VA Code Section 22.1-296..."
Under this contract, Perry's base salary is $168,000 per year. In addition, the Board pays both the employer and employee contributions to the Virginia Retirement System and for group life insurance under the Virginia Retirement system. Perry also receives a $10,000 per year contribution to a tax sheltered annuity of the superintendent's choosing.
The Board ordered Perry to enroll in an alcohol counseling program. "We will get reports on her progress in that program," said Board member Kenneth Foran. "I certainly am not qualified to determine whether she has a serious problem or not. We need to leave that judgment to a professional."
The Board will also reduce her contract by one year, to end on June 30, 2005, instead of June 30, 2006.
"I think we should form a search committee immediately to show that we are sincere," Foran said. "Perhaps Ms. Perry will turn out to be the most qualified candidate that we can find once again. However, as she did with the teachers at Maury Elementary School, we should ask her to reapply for her job. I thought it was a good idea at Maury and I think it is appropriate in this case."
The Board is also asking her to "take all the necessary steps to quickly conclude the charges against her and accept all the consequences as a first-time offender," according to Wilkoff's statement. Perry's attorney had entered papers in Alexandria General District Court last week asking for a trial date. That date is set for June 29.
"While we certainly cannot insist that anyone plead guilty, I think the intent of the Board is clear," Foran said.
PERRY WAS ALSO asked to make a contribution to the T. C. Williams all-night graduation party. Students pay $25 to attend this alcohol-free event, which began as one of the community's responses to preventing drinking and driving during post graduation celebrations. Board sources said that Perry has been required to donate between $2,000 and $3,000 to the event.
Finally, Perry will be required to make a "personal commitment to be available to groups to talk about her experience and the consequences associated with drinking and driving," Wilkoff said.
Gwendolyn Lewis, the lone Board member who voted against retaining Perry, said, "I just don't see how she can continue to effectively lead our school system at this highly visible incident. By allowing her to keep her job we have sent a message to our students that we have a double standard — zero tolerance for them and forgiveness for the person who is in charge of them.
"I'm certainly not saying that I am better than anybody — I'm just one little person who makes mistakes. However, if I were in her position, I would have resigned. I would not have wanted to put my Board, my students and my community through this kind of ordeal," Lewis said.
Lewis's concern is mirrored by Rod Kuckro, the parent of a T. C. senior and an eighth-grader at George Washington Middle School and the moderator of a local cable television show, 'Alexandria Forum.'
"Either the Board is lazy and just doesn't want to take the time to search for a new superintendent or they have shown an appalling collective lack of judgment," Kuckro said. "How can a superintendent continue to effectively lead the school system when she is the subject of jokes in the community and at the high school in particular?"
Jim Boissonault has established a website to keep the community updated on this issue.
"I started the website in response to the superintendent's decision to move Lucretia Jackson from Lyles-Crouch," Boissonault said. "No one on the Board was listening to parents. I wanted to make it clear to the Board and to parents that we do have choices. We can take steps to hold the superintendent and the Board who supervises her accountable.
"Since her arrest and since the Board's vote last week, the site has come to serve a much larger purpose. There is a lot of information out there and it is important to keep everyone informed," he said.
Since April 25, the site has logged more than 1,000 hits.
"People contact us to see what the site is all about and to send us messages," Boissonault said.
The web site is http//:www.whatmatters.ws.