Prince William County School Board Chairman Gerard Cleary surprised the audience at a board meeting last night by saying that details of Superintendent Richard Johnson's contract, long the object of controversy, should be made public.

The issue will be on the agenda for the March 5 board meeting, Cleary said.

The board has been under fire for nearly a year for refusing to reveal details of the contract after news reports said Johnson's $68,500 contract includes a buy-out clause that would entitle him to compensation if he were fired.

In response to a suit filed by the Prince William County Education Association, Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton ruled Feb. 12 that the contract is a public document, but the board said at its last meeting it would appeal the ruling.

Legislation introduced in the Virginia General Assembly by State Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) would make it mandatory for all Virginia school superintendent contracts to be made public.

Cleary said that if the bill passes before the March 5 meeting, he will call a news conference to reveal the contract details immediately.

Cleary said he made his decison after nearly a dozen residents spoke to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday urging Supervisor Don Kidwell to remove Cleary, who is Kidwell's appointee, because he had refused to reveal the contract.

"If the public wants to know that bad, they should know," Cleary said.

"I want it out of the way so we can get on to other things."