A group of Prince William County residents, angry over the School Board's refusal to make public the contract of Superintendent Richard W. Johnson, attacked the leadership of School Board Chairman Gerald P. Cleary yesterday at a public hearing on Cleary's reappointment.
The hearing before the Board of Supervisors, which also was attended by many Cleary supporters, gave a first glimpse at the possible political fallout of the School Board's controversial decision. Cleary, joined by three others on the seven-member board, has staunchly opposed revealing the contract with Johnson, chief of Virginia's third largest school system.
Speakers repeatedly blasted Cleary's stance yesterday and charged the supervisors with ultimate responsibility in the dispute. "We want people who will follow the law, not try to circumvent the law," the Rev. Frederick L. Ray told the supervisors. "Every public employe in this county works for me and I don't work for them. And firing day comes when I go in the voting booth and pull the lever."
A Prince William Circuit Court judge, ruling in a lawsuit between the School Board and a local teachers' group, said last week that Virginia's Freedom of Information Act requires the board to make Johnson's contract public. The School Board, saying it wants a ruling that would apply to all Virginia school systems, is appealing the decision.
Yesterday's debate prompted a range of charges beyond the issue of Johnson's contract.
Some speakers alleged that Cleary and other board members had failed to aggressively oversee Johnson's management of the schools. "The School Board doesn't run Richard Johnson. Richard Johnson runs the School Board," said Lucian Johnston, a key organizer of yesterday's protest.
U.S. Williams, a representative of the Prince William NAACP, accused Cleary of racial insensitivity, noting particularly his opposition last month to letting teachers join students in taking the day off on Martin Luther King Day.
Several residents came vigorously to Cleary's defense, particularly over the accusations that he is unresponsive to the public. "I am an angry parent" because of the Cleary attacks, said Woodbridge resident Jennifer A. Morrow. "Over the years I have called Mr. Cleary on many matters and he has always returned my calls."
The man who placed Cleary on the board, Supervisor Donald E. Kidwell, said yesterday he disagrees with his appointee over Johnson's contract, but said School Board members have a right to an independent opinion. "The question remains: Do you demand blind obedience from your appointees?"
The supervisors are expected to vote on Cleary's reappointment next month.