Ralph Cooper, a Fairfax County PTA official who was quoted in an article yesterday as saying he had seen no major improvements in the school system since Daniel A. Domenech became superintendent, was referring to improvements in minority student achievement. (Published 12/16/99)

Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said yesterday that if the School Board gives him a new four-year contract and a $30,000 pay raise, he is committed to staying in his job for the duration.

The board's Democratic majority said that it will approve the new contract and raise tomorrow and that the offer was necessary to keep Domenech from seeking another post, such as the vacant school superintendent's job in Los Angeles.

But the proposal has provoked debate, both on the School Board and among community activists, about whether Domenech deserves such an extension just two years into his tenure. Republican board members also complained that a lame-duck board should not be voting on such a major issue. A new board will be sworn in next week after last month's county elections, although Democrats will still be in the majority.

Under the new contract, Domenech's base salary would increase from $175,000 to $205,000 on July 1, a 17 percent raise. As early as July 1, 2001, he would be eligible for an additional bonus of up to $30,000 if the school system met certain goals for improving student performance. The four-year contract would run until June 30, 2004, and is the longest contract a school board is allowed to give a superintendent under Virginia law.

Domenech's current contract does not expire until June 2001. But School Board members said they learned that several school districts, including Los Angeles, were considering him for their superintendent's job. Domenech had been a finalist for the top schools job in both Los Angeles and New York before coming to Fairfax.

Board members then asked Domenech to make a four-year commitment to Fairfax, and Domenech said he was willing to do so. But he told board members that if they waited several months to revisit the issue, he would have little time left on his current contract and would not have enough job security to rule out other offers.

The details of the new contract were finalized on Monday night.

Domenech said yesterday that if the board approves the proposal at its meeting tomorrow, he will stay in Fairfax. "I would commit to you that I would stay here for the duration, that I would not seek other employment and that I would keep my name off of any candidate lists drawn up by any search firms," he said.

Several Fairfax business and parent leaders praised the board majority for moving swiftly to keep Domenech and said he has already raised academic standards in the 156,000-student district. They cited increases in the number of high school students taking Advanced Placement courses; the numerical goals for annual improvement he has set for every county school; and Project Excel, a program that provides extra resources and class time at 20 struggling schools.

"Dan has done an excellent job," said James W. Dyke Jr., chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "If there is any risk at all that we might lose him, then the board needs to do whatever needs to be done to keep him here."

But other school activists said it's too soon to tell whether Domenech's initiatives will be successful. They said the board should wait until later in his contract before deciding whether he deserves an extension.

"In two years I've seen no major improvements in the system," said Ralph Cooper, second vice president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. "So what if more students are taking AP classes? I don't see where any of that merits us getting all warm and fuzzy about him."

PTA council President Rosemary Lynch said she supports the contract extension.

Republicans were upset that Democrats on the board negotiated the new contract just before the new School Board is to be sworn in, and said the move will exacerbate partisan tensions on the panel. Democrats have an 8 to 4 majority on the current board and will have a 7 to 5 majority on the new board.

"It's appalling--a slap in the face to the newly elected board members and the voters who put us here," said Tessie Wilson, a Republican who was elected last month to represent the Braddock District.

Democrats said they were within their authority to craft the deal now, and said the outcome would be the same whether the vote is taken this month or next.