The D.C. school board is considering whether to ask that Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins resign now and agree to have the final year of his contract bought out because of deep dissatisfaction with his performance.
Board members met secretly for three hours Friday evening about Jenkins, whom they hired two years ago to lead the 81,000-student system. Board sources said the members have decided unanimously not to renew Jenkins's contract when it expires next June, and are debating how soon he should go.
In an interview yesterday, board President Nate Bush (Ward 7) confirmed the Friday meeting, saying it "dealt with the evaluation of the superintendent." He declined to provide details.
Jenkins, meanwhile, angrily pledged to resist any attempt to have him quit early. "I know they're in very serious discussions, but I think it's totally unwarranted," he said. "I think my work deserves a whole lot better. I think I've done an excellent job."
A majority of board members have complained bitterly about Jenkins for some time, but have not held formal conversations about removing him until now. "Now that school is out for the summer, we are focusing our attention on him," said one board member, who asked not to be identified.
The board's meetings about Jenkins come at a critical time for the school system. An overhaul effort, led by a panel of civic leaders known as the D.C. Committee on Public Education, is a year old. Its contract with about 7,000 teachers expires in September. And it is trying to regain credibility after months of disputes and discrepancy about its enrollment.
Sources said Friday's meeting was the second time in 10 days that board members met secretly to debate how soon to replace Jenkins, a longtime school system insider who most members contend is failing to tackle key problems.
The board is examining two options, school system sources said: to allow Jenkins to remain on the job until next June and begin searching for a new superintendent this fall or to oust him now and hire an interim leader.
Board members have asked Bush to begin searching for interim replacements in the event they decide to take action against Jenkins soon, sources said. Meetings are being planned this week with several candidates that board members have suggested, sources said, including City Administrator Carol B. Thompson and former D.C. school superintendent Vincent Reed.
Reed, now a vice president at The Washington Post, yesterday scoffed at that idea. "I'm not interested in spending one day with the board, much less a year," he said. Thompson could not be reached for comment, but sources said she has told Bush she is willing to meet with him.
Board members are also being pressured by parent activists and several overhaul committee members to improve the pace of change and bring more stability to the school system's administration, which Jenkins has reorganized repeatedly this year.
Jenkins was hired by a 6 to 5 board vote in June 1988. The board spent months arguing over whether to hire him or an outsider. Jenkins began his career in the D.C. schools nearly 30 years ago, and has worked as a teacher, principal, administrator and chief deputy to former superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie.
Board members said they chose Jenkins in hopes he would bring stability to the school system, yet most board members said that has proved to be a mistake. Whenever the search for a permanent replacement begins, the board is certain to look for an outsider. Board members said they do not believe any of Jenkins's deputies could lead the system; none has been included on the list of prospective candidates for interim superintendent.
Board members said that regardless of when Jenkins departs, they expect to begin a national search for his replacement by October.
The D.C. school superintendent is paid about $86,000 annually, a salary lower than those of most other leaders of large urban school districts.