It took complaints from outraged citizens, threats from local politicians, a lawsuit, and, finally, action by the Virginia General Assembly to get the Prince William County School Board to release School Superintendent Richard W. Johnson's contract.
Yesterday, when School Board Chairman Gerald W. Cleary finally made public the document that had enmeshed the board in controversy for months, he claimed he had been "vindicated."
By making Virginia lawmakers force the board to do what it had adamantly resisted for so long, Cleary said, the board got what it wanted all along: a legally enforceable policy regarding contract disclosure that would apply to all Virginia school systems.
Until now, Cleary said, the matter had been ambiguous. "It's a vindication of the board's stand. There had to be a gray area. If there wasn't, the Assembly wouldn't have had to act to get rid of the gray area."
For all the controversy, the contract released yesterday contained few surprises. Most of the major provisions, including Johnson's $68,500-a-year salary and a buy-out clause if he is fired, had been widely reported in the media.
Nonetheless, one Prince William official warned yesterday that the political fallout over the board's refusal for so long to release the contract remains to be seen.
"I think there's certainly going to be some political consequences," said Prince William Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), who has been critical of the board for refusing to disclose the contract's provisions. "It's certainly something you are going to hear about again."
Jenkins said the issue will be important when school board members come up for reappointment, and may figure in supervisor races.
Jenkins said the contract issue underscored a larger problem on the board -- the inability of some board members to exert control over Johnson and the school administration -- and recommended that the Board of Supervisors play a more aggressive role in monitoring the schools.
Cleary yesterday defended Johnson's buy-out clause, which had attracted the most controversy prior to the contract's disclosure, saying it allows the school board to dismiss the superintendent merely for reasons of preference. Without the clause, he said, gross dereliction of duty would be the only grounds for his dismissal. "If four people on this seven-member board decided they didn't want him anymore, he would have to pack his bags and hit the road . . . . He serves at the pleasure of the board. That's the bottom line."