A sign outside an Orlando, Fla., real estate office bore a message for Northern Virginia last week: "Thanks Fairfax County," it said. "We needed that."
It was a not-so-fond farewell to L. Linton Deck Jr., the Florida school administrator whose appointment as chief of the Fairfax school system, the largest in the Washington area, has delighted many educators and parents in the county he left behind.
During 6 1/2 years as head of the Orlando County, Fla., schools, the portly, 50-year-old Deck, who started the $59,000-a-year Fairfax job yesterday, earned a reputation as "strong-willed," "stubborn," and a man who was used to getting his own way, according to school officials in Orlando.
The officials said Deck, who once suggested dropping varsity sports as a budget cutting measure until the outcry from parents forced him to forget it, was at the center of controversy almost from the beginning of his tenure there -- a situation Fairfax officials, defending their choice, say they knew about.
Only 10 months into Deck's original four-year contract, which began in 1973, the Orange County school board voted no confidence in the superintendent by a 4-to-3 margin. Three board members who had been instrumental in hiring Deck asked for his resignation.
"Deck said he was going to run the show," recalls Orange County School Board Chairman, William Barnes. "We said if that's the case, you can leave."
Deck stayed after apologizing and promising to improve relations with the board, Barnes said.
"I'm delighted he found a job in Fairfax County," said Barnes. "I think he'll make out better there, hopefully, than he did in Orange County."
Fairfax County School Board Chairman Rodney F. Page said yesterday the board, which conducted a nationwide search for an administrator to run the 128,000-student Fairfax system, the nation's 10th largest, was fully aware of Deck's reputation in Orange County.
"We were not afraid of a strong administrator," Page said. "A lot of school boards have a different view of their role. We felt a good, strong administrator would feel right at home here."
Page said the confrontations between Deck and the Orange County board should be considered in the context of the political climate there, which he described as "very political -- appointments were made on the basis of who you knew."
Among the controversies that marked Deck's turbulent years in Orange County:
Charges that he met secretly with school board members to discuss a controversial school closing. Deck and the board were subsequently sued and found in the violation of Florida's sunshine law by a state Appeals Court. The case is pending before the Florida Supreme Court.
Deck systematically transferred 85 percent of the county's school principals to new posts over six years, angering teachers and administrators.
Deck once threatened at budget time not to rehire 350 teachers -- 25 percent of the county's entire teaching staff -- as a budget-cutting measure, again producing cries of anguish from school employes.
Allegations that Deck was uncommunicative with the school board. According to Barnes, school board members on several occasions sought the help of the board's lawyer to gain access to Deck's staff meetings.
"I never sought controversy," Deck said in an interview last night. "I never dodged a hard decision either, because I thought that was my duty. I can't remember a single decision we made which wasn't beneficial over the long run."
Deck called Barnes' accusation that he was uncommunicative "not true. Mr. Barnes is a very interesting fellow. His memory is selective," Deck said.
"There were times, yes, when he wanted to come to staff meetings and I said no. I said this on the basis of a recommendation from our attorney, who said that allowing board members to attend staff meetings might open those meetings to the media."
In the 1976 sunshine case, Deck allegedly summoned school board members one at a time to discuss the closing of a junior high school. By meeting the members individually, he allegedly was able to circumvent the law, which prohibits two or more board members from meeting privately to discuss school matters.
Outraged parents sued the superintendent and school board for violating the "spirit" of the law and began a petition drive to make the superintendent an elected official.
The board thwarted the attempt to change the office to an elected position, but members say they have abandoned private meetings.
Concerned by the reports of repeated standoffs between Deck and Orange County teachers, the Fairfax Education Association, which represents about 6,500 of the county's 7,200 teachers, launched its own investigation of Deck several months ago.
The association's president-elect, Bill Costello, who heads the study, says his initial findings indicate that Deck "tends to run a pretty centralized organization, with decisions being made by a small core of people.
"He has not historically had a smooth relationship with employe gronups. . . . The teachers in Orange County filed several complaints with the (Florida) Public Employes Commission over some of Deck's decisions," Costello said.
After ticking off a list of what he called Deck's shortcomings as a school administrator, Board Chairman Barnes said the Orange County schools are searching for a new superintendent who will be "100 percent different from Deck."
Asked what he told Fairfax County school board members when they were considering Deck in Orlando, Barnes replied, "I told them he was a good superintendent."
Asked whether he deliberately tried to mislead the Fairfax officials in order to get rid of Deck, Barnes repeated, "I told them he was a good superintendent."
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity accused teachers last week of illegally negotiating the proposal with the school board in violation of a Virginia law against collective bargaining for public employes.
Speakers at a meeting of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents most of the county's 7,200 teachers, said they wanted to send Herrity a message.
"Herrity has issued the challenge and we will meet it," said one speaker. "This county will fund quality education or this county will lose it."
Under the nine-month-old job action, the teachers have refused to perform extra duties outside of school hours.
The teachers warmly applauded new School Superintendent L. Linton Deck Jr., who addressed the meeting briefly. "I understand you had a slogan about a year ago, 'Together We Can.' I hope we can make that not only a slogan but a living reality," Deck told the crowd.
The group gave a standing ovation to former acting superintendent William J. Burkholder, who helped negotiate the recent pay proposal.