Fairfax County School Superintendent Linton Deck Jr. was forced to resign as chief of the Washington area's largest school system by a school board angry with his handling of an athletic recruitment scandal, a ballooning school budget and his poor relations with community and political leaders, school officials said yesterday.
Board members said they had decided during an executive session last weekend to seek Deck's resignation from the $68,240 job after months of criticism from teacher organizations, parent groups and county leaders. Those pressures culminated late Thursday night in Deck's surprise resignation, effective July 16.
"You couldn't point to any single instance," said school board member Toni M. Carney, an outspoken critic of Deck. Board members said their dissatisfaction with Deck arose from an accumulation of issues and problems during his 2 1/2-year tenure.
Neither Deck nor most board members would talk for the record yesterday on what triggered his departure. But many noted that the 53-year-old superintendent had come under increasing attack in recent months for what critics called his abrasive, overbearing personality and his deteriorating relations with a community that traditionally has supported a strong school system.
"He's a leader, a 'you follow or get the hell out of my way' kind of person," Carney said just before Deck's resignation.
Although rumors of a pending resignation have been circulating among the school system's top executives for about a month, the resignation announced after a late-night, closed-door board session stunned most of the school system staff.
"This came as a big surprise," said school spokesman George Hamel. "I don't think anybody knew for sure what was going to happen last night outside of the board and the superintendent." Deck said yesterday only that he resigned because, "This is a great organization and it does not deserve a controversy that would affect the education of the kids."
Criticism from the community and county Board of Supervisors over controversies relating to Deck have become powerful political liabilities for the supervisors. Several school board members said they had received increasing complaints about Deck from the county supervisors who appoint them.
"We were putting out fires for him, when he should have been putting out fires for us," one school board member said. A recent series of controversies gave detractors even more ammunition and tested the loyalty of many of Deck's supporters:
* Some board members and community groups were outraged at Deck's investigation of allegations of recruiting violations by the Mount Vernon High School athletic staff. School board members complained that Deck refused to give the board information on the probe. Teachers groups accused Deck and his staff of intimidating teachers, coaches and students at the school during the investigation. The Virginia High School League ruled that the school had violated recruiting rules, but Deck's procedures for carrying out the investigation had infuriated parents, students and teachers.
* County supervisors were angered by Deck's budget requests for more than $11 million in new programs, at a time when most county agencies were being asked to cut budgets. Those issues strained relationships between some school board members and the supervisors.
* Some board members accused Deck of being too confrontational. Some said the board was embarrassed when, on Deck's advice, it threatened the federal government with tuition for students at Fort Belvoir after Congress cut federal impact aid to the county. Board members said they also believed Deck pushed them into arguments with the supervisors over school construction programs.
* The Fairfax Education Association censured Deck in January for what it called mishandling of school closings on a snowy day when many buses were unable to take many students home until late at night.
* Pronounced community reaction to school closings Deck oversaw soon after his arrival and principal transfers he recommended early in his tenure.
Despite the problems, Deck had cultivated some strong supporters. "A lot of people look at him as crude and arrogant," said school board member Carmin Caputo recently. "To me it's more one of self-confidence."
Caputo, who has praised Deck as "a hard charger," and James W. Kitchen cast the only dissenting votes Thursday night as the 10-member board accepted Deck's pressured resignation.
Many school board members and community leaders also were impressed with Deck's introduction of computers into Fairfax classrooms and administrative offices. Others said he was jumping into the computer age too quickly, spending too much money on rapidly changing technology.
The school board and Deck had agreed to the resignation Sunday during the board's annual review of the superintendent and other top school personnel. The board members spent almost five hours Saturday privately discussing Deck's performance. School officials said yesterday individual board member evaluations arrived at separately showed most school board members believed Deck had not addressed problems raised in two previous evaluations. They decided to ask him to leave, and met with Deck on Sunday to discuss the conditions of his resignation.
Deck will remain an employe of the school system until Oct. 31 to assist in the transition to a new administration. The board will give him a total of $75,000 in severance pay for the remaining two years of his four-year contract.
Deputy Superintendent William J. Burkholder was named acting superintendent, a role he filled for several months before Deck arrived in early 1980. Burkholder was offered the job that was eventually filled by Deck, but turned it down.
Deck came to Fairfax in 1980 after a stormy tenure in the Orlando County, Fla., school system, where he served as superintendent for seven years. After a year in office, the Orlando school board issued a "no confidence" vote against him and asked for his resignation. Deck refused to resign and remained in the superintendent's job another six years, his contract being renewed once.
Criticisms of Deck in the Orlando system foreshadowed many of his problems in Fairfax: Charges that he caused disharmony between teachers and administrators and showed indifference to the wishes of the community and the board.
When he was hired, Fairfax school officials dismissed those complaints and said they were the product of a volatile elected school board. Deck, the Northern Virginians said, would have fewer problems in Fairfax thanks to the county's appointed, less political school board. Yesterday, some board members said privately, the earlier assessments may have been incorrect.