D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is negotiating a new contract with the D.C. financial control board that would boost her salary by at least $20,000 a year and protect her from being fired by the Board of Education when it resumes authority over the school system next June, sources close to the negotiations said yesterday.
The negotiations, which began two months ago, were started because Ackerman was worried about her strained relations with the elected school board, which lost its power to run the school system in 1996 after years of infighting and dismal performance.
"She has some legitimate concerns" about job security when the board resumes power, one knowledgeable source said.
But once that issue was on the table, sources said, she asked for an increase in salary and benefits. She is negotiating with the control board because that panel now oversees the school system, with the school board in a mostly advisory position.
Ackerman's contract negotiations reflect continuing uncertainty about the future of her efforts to improve the beleaguered 71,000-student system. The changes she has instituted since becoming superintendent in May 1998 include major personnel and instructional overhauls that could take three to five years to complete.
But her contract, which expires in June 2001, includes a provision that permits the school board to remove her within 90 days once the panel regains powers. She is trying to negotiate a contract that wouldn't end until June 2004 and would have safeguards against any effort by the board to remove her so quickly, including, sources said, a requirement that any firing be supported by other city officials.
Ackerman's current contract pays her $150,000 a year, plus thousands more in benefits. When it was signed, she was among the highest-paid superintendents in the region, but that is no longer true. She is asking, sources said, for a base salary substantially less than $200,000.
The incoming superintendent of Montgomery County, Jerry Weast, is paid a base salary of $237,000; the new head of the Prince George's County system, Iris T. Metts, makes $160,000; and Fairfax County Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech makes $159,000.
Those school systems have many more students. But it is generally acknowledged by educators that Ackerman's job is as hard as that of any superintendent in the country, said Michael Casserly, head of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools.
School board President Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1), whose own leadership of the panel is being challenged this morning by a majority of the board, said the school board should be included in any negotiations.
"We should have full authority restored, and that is a part of full authority, the hiring and firing of the superintendent," Harvey said.
Ackerman and board members say they are committed to working together, but there has been mounting tension. Board members complain that she has ignored them. Ackerman has complained that some members pledged to support certain initiatives in private, then distanced themselves in public.
Ackerman also is concerned about the board's history of micromanaging superintendents and its past internal bickering. Yesterday, at a working session on the board's transition back to power, she referred to board members as "my bosses" and asked that they show her respect.
"I have seen the talking under the breath, the rolling of the eyes, and it's hurtful," she said. "We don't have to always agree, but we do have to find that common ground."
CAPTION: D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is said to be seeking to protect her job from the school board.