When the School Board voted unanimously to name former Mayor Kerry Donley as athletic director of T.C. Williams High School, many people were curious about his motives. Why would Donley resign from his job as vice president of Virginia Commerce Bank? Would he seek election for another term as chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party?
"I took this job because I wanted to return to public life," said Donley, whose daughter recently won a bronze medal in an international crew competition. "I saw this as an opportunity to do something different and rewarding."
Last weekend, he sent an e-mail to party leaders explaining that he would not seek another term as chairman. C. Richard Cranwell, a longtime Democratic leader of the Virginia House of Delegates, will seek election to the position when party leaders convene for a quarterly meeting on June 17 and 18.
"The School Board asked that I step down from the chairmanship of the party as a condition of my coming on board at T.C. Williams," said Donley. "I applied for the position just like everyone else and met with the selection board just like all the other candidates."
Donley was hired for a 12-month position at a salary of $92,545. The announcement that he will step down from the chairmanship pleased School Board members who feared that his high-profile position would be a distraction to his duties at the high school. But other questions linger — especially relating to the series of events that led to the announcement that Donley had been named as athletic director.
<b>THE SELECTION BOARD</b> that was looking at candidates to fill the position included the executive director of secondary programs for the school system, the outgoing principal of T.C. Williams, two coaches and one parent. The opening was first advertised on Feb. 18, and the school system kept the opening on its Web site for more than two months. By mid-April several finalists were chosen, and the selection board considered four applicants. Two contenders were recommended to Superintendent Rebecca Perry — with a strong preference for Donley. Perry agreed with the selection board's conclusion and approached Donley on April 15.
After meeting with the superintendent, Donley thought the matter had been settled. But Virginia law stipulates that the School Board must vote on all personnel matters. So he had not been technically hired when he resigned his position at Virginia Commerce Bank.
"She offered me the position of athletic director, and I accepted," said Donley. "At that point, I thought it was all over."
But it wasn't over. Perry planned to approach School Board members with the results of the selection board and her meeting with Donley at the April 14 meeting. In the executive session, some board members expressed reservations about Donley. A vote on the appointment was scheduled for the May 5 School Board meeting. But that vote was forced much earlier.
After the April 21 meeting, rumors began. Why was Donley telling people that he had been hired if School Board members were expressing reservations? Information about the nature of the objection to Donley was being publicly discussed and debated.
Chairman Mark Wilkoff was enraged that details of the April 21 executive session had been publicly disclosed, and he called an emergency School Board meeting to discuss the matter.
"I was livid," said Wilkoff, admitting that he is still upset about the leak. "It's totally inappropriate for board members to discuss publicly what happened in executive session. It destroys the trust that board needs to operate effectively. And, like with any other relationship, once that trust has been destroyed, it's very difficult to get it back."
Although no public action was taken on the violation of trust, board members felt that the unusual emergency session presented an opportunity to bring finality to questions about Donley. Several board members felt that it was unfair to leave the matter of his employment status unresolved, and so a vote was taken.
"We wanted to put an end to all of the silliness," said Perry. "We decided to vote to put an end to the matter. It was really unfair to Donley to leave the matter hanging out there."
That's when board members voted unanimously to hire Donley as the new athletic director. Even if some board members had expressed reservations in the past, it didn't matter now because every member voted to hire him.
"I think the fact that the School Board voted unanimously to accept Donley is an indication of the support that members of the board had for him," said Amy Carlini, executive director of Information and Outreach for Alexandria City Public Schools. "We are excited to have him as part of our team, and we think he's going to do a great job at T.C. Williams."
But the controversy over Donley's hiring was not over.
<b>ONE OF THE QUESTIONS</b> about Donley being named to the athletic director was in reference to his qualifications. The job description lists several qualifications for the position: being a licensed teacher, having five years of experience as a teacher, having five years of coaching experience, having a commitment to quality integrated education, having a commitment to promoting positive relations among student athletes and having a commitment to gender equality as it applies to athletic programs.
Donley has never been licensed as a teacher, but has coached a girls' soccer team in the Suburban Friendship League for two years. His job at Virginia Commerce Bank involved overseeing 18 branch banks, developing new branches and marketing — jostling team players from one field to another. He says that his new job at T.C. Williams will be similar in some ways.
"There is a similarity in the management skills that are necessary for both positions," said Donley. "But the big difference is that I'll be working with dedicated coaches and hard-working students."
Others question whether Donley has the qualifications to lead a high school athletic department.
"He couldn't be the athletic director at my daughter's school at Alexandria Country Day School because he's not qualified " said City Councilman Andrew Macdonald. "Donley will probably do a very good job at T.C., but the School Board handled this situation in a very unprofessional manner."
Board members were impressed with Donley's credentials — especially his extensive contacts within city government — and his enthusiasm for T.C. Williams sports.
"This is like hiring a general to be your superintendent," said School Board Vice Chair Molly Danforth. "There's a little bit of a movement in education to hire people who are outside of the educational establishment to take high-level administrative positions. I think he'll do a fabulous job because of his connections and his tremendous energy."
<b>THE JOB DESCRIPTION</b> was modified before Donley was hired, giving the athletic director some additional duties and relieving him of others. He will now be responsible for acting as chairman of all Alexandria City Public Schools athletics committees and he will be the sole evaluator of coaches and other athletic program staff, two responsibilities that will extend the power and influence of the athletic director. He will not monitor affirmative action plans relating to coaching staff or the implementation of coaching staff evaluations, two duties that were listed in the performance responsibilities under the previous guidelines.
Another change in the job description involved the chain of command. While previous directors reported to the assistant superintendent for school operations, Donley will report to the as-yet unnamed new principal of the high school. Superintendent Perry said that a pool of candidates had been identified, and the selection committee for that position will soon start examining potential candidates.
The circumstances surrounding Donley's hiring have prompted other questions. Former mayoral candidate Townsend Van Fleet filed a Freedom of Information Request on May 20; he wanted to know what happened during the two executive sessions before Donley was hired. He requested several documents and posed a number of questions. Among them: the criteria used to select Donley, the composition of the selection board; a copy of the candidates' resumes; the amount of Donley's salary; a list of teams that he has coached; and a list of the perks that will be made available to him as a result of his new position.
"Perks?" Donley responded when read a list of Van Fleet's requests. "The only perk I'll get as athletic director is that I'll have a parking space in front of the school."
On May 17, the superintendent's counsel responded to the request with a terse, three-page letter. The document stated that Van Fleet's request for information concerning specific employment applications was exempt from disclosure.
"The remainder of Petitioner's requests ... are questions, not requests for documents. Respondent is not required by VFOIA to create new documents or respond for documents," the response stated. "The Petition seeks information clearly barred by the express terms of VFOIA, and has been needlessly filed without first following up with the School District."
<b>FOR DONLEY</b>, the opportunity at T.C. Williams was a chance to return to the public sphere — and to fight for an increased profile for Alexandria City Public School's athletics program.
"This is a defining career change," said Donley. "Sports teaches young people about the spirit of competition, the value of teamwork and the self-discipline that's needed to accomplish goals. Those are lessons that you never really appreciate until later. I'm at a point in my life where these are things that are becoming very important to me."
The appointment comes at a time when the high school will be experiencing the logistical headaches that come with a two-year, $99 million reconstruction project, so finding venues for the teams will be a difficult and important task.
"We're going to be scrambled," said Donley. "We're going to have to find appropriate sites for games during the reconstruction."
One issue related to the future of the T.C. Williams athletic program will be the potential for a new All-Sports Facility. School Board members feel that Donley can use his leverage within city government to act as an effective lobbyist for the proposal.
"I think the residents of Alexandria need top-flight facilities like Beatley Library. An All-City Sports facility would allow us better use of an existing field," said Donley, who noted that the original provision for the facility was made during his tenure as mayor. "The field at T.C. can be used in a complementary way, when several games need to be played at the same time."
A $100,000 feasibility study recently named Joseph Hensley Park as a possible location for the facility, which would include a lighted artificial-turf field, a 400-meter track and a second field to accommodate baseball or softball. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities would manage the facility.
But funding the project might be difficult.
"I think that there's a lot of questions about it," said Macdonald, who was one of two City Council members to request slowing down the planning and development of the facility during the budget process. "It will be very costly, and we've got to examine all the options."