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School Board Sets Closed Meeting

Parents voice concerns about superintendent's contract.

The Alexandria School Board’s regular meeting has been moved from Thursday, Nov. 18 to Tuesday, Nov. 16 because of a Virginia School Board Association meeting that will begin on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Prior to the regular 7:30 start time, the board will hold a closed meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m., according to a published board agenda. No board member who was contacted would disclose the topic or topics to be discussed in that closed meeting.

“I cannot discuss this matter except to say that it is one of those issues enumerated in the Code of Virginia as appropriate to discuss in a closed meeting,” said Board member Kenneth L. Foran. The Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows elected bodies to hold closed meetings to discuss primarily legal and personnel issues.

Community members are expressing concern that the board plans to discuss whether to form a search committee for a new superintendent or to renew current superintendent Rebecca L. Perry’s contract. That contract was shortened by a year as part of the board’s sanctions against her for a drunk driving incident that occurred this past April. Perry pled guilty to driving while intoxicated, paid a fine, attended alcohol awareness and prevention classes and is driving with a restricted license for a year.

Perry’s current contract will end on June 30, 2005, unless the board extends it. Under the terms of the contract, “Failure to inform by March 5, 2005, will automatically renew the agreement for one additional year … In addition, this agreement may be renewed by the Board and the Superintendent in writing. In addition, the Board shall have the option to renew this agreement for an additional year through and until June 30, 2006, which option it may exercise in its sole discretion.”

WHEN THE BOARD imposed sanctions against Perry last year, they issued the following statement. “Ms. Perry’s decision to drink and drive was a serious lapse in judgment,” said Board chairman Mark O. Wilkoff at the School Board’s special meeting on April 29, 2004, when the sanctions against Perry were publicly enumerated. “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 .…”

Some parents say that “serious consequences” do not include renewing a contract and making it what it was originally. “I certainly believed that the board would form a search committee and look for a new superintendent who would be employed by next year,” said Ellen Monaghan, parent of a student at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy. “Even if I hadn’t been involved in the Lyles-Crouch issue, I would believe that the board should move forward with a search. They should get public input before making the decision to extend Ms. Perry’s contract. Their failure to do so will have serious political and ethical consequences.

“What sanctions has she faced? Her contract could stay the same as it was before and she got a raise last year,” she said.

Jim Boissonault, a parent who became vocal after Perry moved longtime Lyles-Crouch principal Lucretia Jackson, agrees. “By shortening the contract as part of the sanctions, the board made that a public matter,” he said. “I believe that they should get public input if they are now saying they want to do something else. I understand that personnel discussions are private. However, forming a search committee is not,” he said.

KELLIE MEEHAN EXPRESSED her own concerns in an e-mail to board members. “I am writing to you, once again, to urge you to form a search committee and begin the process of hiring a new ACPS superintendent. Time is running out for you to act on this. Ms. Perry’s contract cannot be allowed to automatically renew. We have seen from other jurisdictions in the Washington Metropolitan area that the search and hiring process can take months to find a qualified candidate. You as a board need to move on this immediately. Failure to act on this now will result in even more scrutiny of the current School Board,” she wrote.

Christina Jones does not have children in the school system but her stepchildren attended Alexandria public schools. She sees the issue slightly differently. “We elect our School Board members to oversee our school system,” she said. “In April of 2004, I heard Chairman Wilkoff state that the board, in addition to other sanctions, would reduce Ms. Perry’s contract by one year to end on June 30, 2005. I trusted that statement and thought the matter was closed.

“What Mr. Wilkoff did not disclose was that the board retained an automatic renewal clause in the new contract. It appears that they are going to exercise that option. Where is the sanction and why weren’t we told this was a possibility?”