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Fairfax School Board Extends Superintendent's Contract

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By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

The Fairfax School Board voted last night to extend Superintendent Jack D. Dale's contract for four years, as some parent and teacher groups said they felt left out of the review process of the leadership of the region's largest school system.

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In the first year of the contract, approved 7 to 3, with one abstention, Dale will receive a base salary of $292,469 to manage 22,000 employees, 173,000 students and a $2.2 billion budget. That is the same amount he was paid last fiscal year, when it was the highest base pay of any superintendent in the region. The salary is up more than $50,000 from when he took the helm in 2004.

Also unchanged in the first year will be an additional $65,500 of deferred pay invested in two retirement accounts.

Before the vote, Dale offered the School Board a presentation showing three-year improvements in average scores on standardized math and reading tests, SATs and Advanced Placement tests. He also showed reductions in achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates.

School Board members said they were pleased with the system's steady progress.

"The superintendent needs to be judged on the data of how the school system is doing," said School Board Chairman Kathy L. Smith (Sully). "We are on the right track."

A coalition of activists, parent groups and teachers associations, however, urged the School Board to look beyond test scores and invite more comment from the public on the superintendent's progress. "Parents want to be included in big decisions like this," Sandy Evans, co-founder of a parent-led effort to push back high school start times, told the board. "We are here to tell you we often feel marginalized, drowned out or even vilified."

Several parent groups have formed in recent years around such causes as changing the grading scale or opposing boundary changes or drug policies.

Michele Menapace, president of the county council of PTAs, said that one reason for the growing number of groups is that parents feel like "it takes 7,000 signatures on a petition" before their concerns are addressed by school officials.

The coalition did not oppose extending Dale's contract, but advocated for a shorter term.

"This looks like a sweetheart deal," said Leonard Bumbaca, president of the Fairfax Education Association, a teachers association. "It includes assurances that no other staff member can come close to."

Smith said the length of the contract reflects the importance of longevity. Research shows that the length of leadership influences the quality of a school system. And she said Dale's pay package was "competitive" with those in the area.

Dale's contract gives him raises that match the percent increase of his staff's. Because Fairfax school employees' salaries were frozen this year, his pay also was frozen.

Dale's predecessor, Daniel A. Domenech, was compensated under a different system, with bonuses awarded based on annual reviews.

Some board members said their review of the school system's performance is ongoing, and parents have the chance to air concerns in meetings throughout the year.

"We want to hear what the public has to say, but when it comes down to it, the board has the responsibility to hire and evaluate the superintendent," Smith said. "Our responsibility is to the whole community and to ensure the schools system moves forward."

F. Kevin Reynolds, former president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, urged the School Board to approve the contract. "Jack Dale deserves four more years," he said. "But why take my word for it? The proof is in the student achievement data."


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