School Board Plans to Extend Superintendent's Contract

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Fairfax County School Board is expected tonight to extend Superintendent Jack D. Dale's contract for two years without dissent, giving him a mandate to lead the region's largest school system through mid-2010 as he seeks to reach ambitious academic goals during potentially lean budget years.

Among those goals: Dale aims to have every high school graduate in the immigrant-rich county able to speak two languages.

Dale, 57, was hired unanimously by the same board in 2004 to head the highly regarded, 164,000-student system. The board's support of Dale has not waned. All 12 members said in interviews that there is consensus for the proposal to extend his term. Dale's current contract runs through June 2008.

Under the new agreement, Dale's annual salary would remain $266,292. He is the highest-paid Fairfax County public official, and he earns a higher base salary than any other school superintendent in the Washington area.

"It's a vote of confidence that he can take the school system where we want to go," said School Board Member Stuart D. Gibson (Hunter Mill), a lawyer who has been on the board for more than a decade. "There is a lot on our plate."

In January, Dale will present a spending plan to county officials. They have warned that a cooling housing market means school leaders shouldn't expect much growth in the county's share of the system's $2.1 billion annual budget. Early next year, school officials also will consider changing the attendance boundaries of some schools, shifts that often trigger intense and emotional community debate.

In addition, elections will be held in November to fill all 12 school board seats.

Dale, a former math teacher who served as superintendent in Frederick County, Md., for eight years before coming to Fairfax, has joined the school board in defining new goals meant to push students beyond the math and reading targets set under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Now it's his job to find ways to help students meet those goals, which include valuing the fine arts and learning conflict management techniques.

Traditionally, the school board considers a superintendent's contract a year before it expires so both sides have time to weigh options. Several board members said they are pursuing an extension of Dale's contract a few months earlier than usual because they are pleased with his performance and want to ensure continuity with top staff. The proposed contract calls for Dale to receive an annual raise equal to the average percentage increase of employees systemwide and a cost-of-living adjustment each July.

"We want the stability of Jack Dale staying on this job," said Board Member Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). "We're confident he can implement this complex future we're trying to build. He gets it."

Added School Board member Brad Center (Lee): "We're just now reaching the tipping point with Dr. Dale where he's got his team in place, and we don't want to lose all that momentum."

Dale talks about making students "global citizens" and frequently cites Thomas L. Friedman's book "The World Is Flat." At a recent evening meeting, he told immigrant parents that their children have a head start on one of the board's most ambitious goals: having every child speak a second language.

"We must teach our children how important cultures of the world are, how important different views are," Dale told the parents. Some school board members said they expect that he'll seek funding for an expansion of foreign language classes in the next budget.

The nonacademic challenges Dale faces include rising construction costs for school renovations and a bus system that consultants say needs an overhaul.

Some previous boards have tended to split in public, but the current board hammers out many disagreements before final votes are cast. Dale, who has made consensus-building his hallmark, is a good fit, members said.

"This board is not really partisan, but we might have differences about what we want for kids," said Kathy L. Smith (Sully). "Jack speaks to everybody. He's thoughtful about getting people to engage."

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