In a 5-to-2 vote last week, the Prince William County School Board approved a four-year contract for School Superintendent Richard Johnson that includes a $9,000 raise and a "buy-out" clause Johnson requested in case he is voted out of the position before his term is up, according to several school sources.
Brentsville board member George Mullen and Dumfries member Maureen Caddigan cast the two dissenting votes.
A source close to the board said that the contract contains a clause that would require the board to pay Johnson $137,000 if he is asked to resign. With the terms of several board members due to expire this year and in 1986, a shift in support for Johnson is possible, the source said. "He is very concerned, very nervous," the source said. "He wants to be covered."
Board vice chairman Mullen confirmed the existence of the "buy-out" clause although he declined to discuss the amount, saying it is "privileged executive session" information. "This is the first time a clause like this has been requested," Mullen said. "I think it's pretty easy to guess why."
Board members whose terms are due to expire in March are Gainesville representative Mike O'Donnell and Occoquan member Ilona Salmon. The terms of Chairman Gerard Cleary of Woodbridge and Neabsco member Regis Lacey will expire in March 1986.
At times during the last several years of his tenure, Johnson made decisions on school boundary changes and faculty transfers that sparked strong community reactions. When popular Gar-Field High School Principal Philip Gainous was moved abruptly to another high school last June, 3,000 parents, teachers and students signed petitions protesting the move.
The Board of Supervisors has said it is unhappy with appointed school boards and has asked local state legislators to introduce legislation in Richmond that would require school board members to stand for election.
Johnson was hired as superintendent in 1980 to fill the unexpired term of William Helton and was appointed to a full term in 1981. His salary, which began at $45,000, will go from $59,503 to $68,500 under the new contract. Other benefits include a tax-free annual annuity of more than $8,000, a 5.5 percent state-paid retirement fund benefit and a car.
Mullen said the intent of his vote "was not against the superintendent or his performance" but against the raise. "Including the annuity, that's a 28 percent increase," Mullen said. "Our teachers and employes aren't going to get anything like that." The board recently approved a 10 percent pay increase for teachers, a move that was sanctioned by Johnson.
The Board of Supervisors will have to approve the final School Board budget figure that could determine how much money would be available to pay for the proposed pay increases for teachers. At a dinner meeting last month, School Board members told the supervisors that at least $15 million would be necessary to pay for a 10 percent hike, step increases (the annual raises teachers receive) and cost-of-living raises. None of the supervisors gave across-the-board support for the figure at that meeting, calling it "unrealistic," although most say they approve of an increase in teachers' pay.
Caddigan, the board's newest member, read a four-minute statement after the motion to approve Johnson's reappointment. In the statement she accused the superintendent of "insensitivity" to parents and the needs of the community and said that teacher and employe morale is "at a very low ebb" because there is "no visible concern for their well-being" displayed by Johnson. She asked the superintendent to decline his raise until a school budget that will provide pay hikes for teachers and employes has been approved.
Cleary also read a prepared statement in which he described Johnson as a "strong, energetic leader and a skillful administrator." The superintendent's accomplishments, Cleary said, include a 14-point program for improving secondary education, the establishment of discipline in the schools and a "streamlined management system with emphasis on fiscal responsibility."
Although the board evaluated the superintendent in 32 categories before approving the new contract, the evaluation, unlike others in past years, was not released to the public at Johnson's request, Cleary said. Cleary's evaluation of Johnson gave him a "B-plus overall." But his public relations style "needs improvement -- and the board has told him that," Cleary said. O'Donnell, Salmon and Coles member Odis Price also made statements in support of Johnson. The contract will now go to the state Board of Education.