Twenty four speakers chastised five members of the Alexandria Public School Board last Thursday night for the process they followed in deciding not to renew the contract of School Superintendent Rebecca Perry. Not one individual rose in defense of the Board's action or methodology.
Perhaps the most stinging indictments, given they are the future voting citizens the Board faces, came from two students who attend T.C. Williams High School. "I'm a 16-year-old girl and I handle my personal vendettas better than you guys. I'm embarrassed to say you represent the schools in this City," said Sarah Younces.
"I don't know why you want to do away with someone who has made our schools so great. You five chose not to follow the rules. What message does that send to students?" said Jesse Schaffer. He said that his mother teaches in the system and that he has attended Alexandria Public Schools since first grade.
Nearly all the speakers called for the Board to reconsider its vote and keep Perry. However, most of their criticism rested not on the Board's right to do what they did but rather the way in which they did it. It was viewed as "backroom politics," not based on a professional evaluation of Perry's capabilities, but rather on their own personal alleged vendetta against Perry.
"I can't tell you how disappointed I am by the way you acted on Perry's dismissal. I expected a public hearing would take place. What you did was not what I learned about democratic politics. Should I now teach my daughter how back room politics works?" asked Margo Chisholm in kicking off the array of criticisms.
"I have made mistakes in my business over the years. And, when I have, I have admitted them and moved forward. Why can't you admit that you have made a mistake? Rescind your vote. It was orchestrated in secret. Open up the process to the public," said Jack Taylor.
"You must realize that your actions have raised serious questions about your ability to serve. Alexandrians don't support closed and secretive government. If you don't do the right thing now you will cause ongoing divisiveness. Put the kids and community first — not your own feelings," said John Leary.
"Look around you. Look at the 300 e-mails you have received that support Superintendent Perry by a margin of two to one. We all make mistakes. But, when we don't admit them we end up in Baghdad," said Vic Glasberg.
Former City Councilwoman Joyce Woodson said that she was addressing her remarks to the people of Alexandria. "Only 4 percent of the electorate voted for this school board. The last time I looked 4 percent is not a mandate," she said.
"We have elected a renegade school board. This is our school board and it’s our duty to respond," said Maggie Williams. She then called for chairman Arthur Peabody to step down.
"You are no longer credible. This was a personal decision not a personnel decision. You want to hire a superintendent you have in your hip pocket," Williams said.
She then laid down five requirements for the board:
Reinstate Perry; the five who voted not to renew the contract should resign immediately; restructure the board; if the five do not resign they should be removed from office and "make sure they never serve in another elective office."
AT THEIR MAY MEETING the board voted five to four not to renew Perry's employment contract after discussion in a closed session and without a public hearing. Those voting against renewal were Peabody, Vice Chairman Blanche Maness, and Board Members Claire Eberwein, Scott Newsham, and Yvonne Folkerts. The latter was absent from Thursday night's meeting.
Board members voting in favor of renewing Perry's contract were Bonnie Campbell, Eileen Cassidy Rivers, Sheryl Gorsuch, and Charles Wilson. Gorsuch stated, "The best way for us to move forward is to keep Rebecca Perry. I will propose a motion to achieve that at our next Board meeting." There was no reaction from the other Board members.
According to some, the way the board considered Perry's contract renewal flew in the face of state laws. "It is not just Virginia you are hearing from here tonight. It is the nation," said Francis Chase Sr., president, Education Association of Alexandria.
"I'm appalled at what is going on by this Board. The issue here tonight is the process. It is flawed," Chase said.
Mimi Carter read statements Board Members had made at the time of their election calling for more openness and public interaction.
She also read a portion of state law dealing with renegotiating school superintendent employment contracts.
A majority of the speakers not only praised Perry's abilities as a superintendent but also what she has accomplished in improving the school system overall. Several also empathized with her having to sit through their comments to the Board members who voted against renewing her contract.
Following the last public speaker, Peabody thanked the audience stating, "I'm consistently impressed by the fact that citizens are so interested. This criticism makes me a more committed public servant. We want to build on the progress we have made."
As he continued to read his prepared statement most of those who had leveled the one hour plus criticism rose en mass and exited the Board room in an open display of disgust. However, Peabody continued to read his statement, which seemed to totally ignore many of the complaints just leveled.
"We need to open the door wider. Our vision needs to be wider as we begin our search for a new Superintendent. For as many good classes we have, there are those that are not as good," Peabody said.
In describing his relationship with Perry he said, "It's fair to say we have had a warm, cordial relationship. But we have a larger obligation to the community."
Throughout his statement, Peabody did not address the main complaint of the speakers — the process followed by the board in making their decision. Nor did he address their complaint that the system did not need a new Superintendent and that a search was "a waste of taxpayer money."
Vice Chairman Blanche Maness acknowledged she "did listen to the speakers and heard no speaker agree with the board's decision." However, she said, "We have to listen to our constituents and our children are our constituents."
Maness insisted that she has received correspondence, e-mails and verbal support for the board's action. "I am sorry that none of those people came tonight to speak," she said.
Following the public hearing the board entered into its regular agenda with the report from the Superintendent. Perry announced that T.C. Williams High School "has been deemed sufficiently complete and a certificate of occupancy has been issued by the City."