After heated debate, the Alexandria School Board voted 7 to 2 last night to amend Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry's contract, shortening it by one year after her conviction this month on a drunken driving charge.
The new contract ends in June 2005 instead of June 2006 and requires her to enroll in an alcohol counseling program. It also increases her salary by the same percentage as the average for other employees of the city's school district.
The board held a closed session to consider the contract before taking its vote in public. After her arrest in April, the board suspended Perry for a week with pay while it investigated the charge and ultimately voted 7 to 1 that she should continue as superintendent on several conditions -- among them the shorter contract, counseling and a contribution to the all-night, alcohol-free graduation party at T.C. Williams High School.
The lone vote then against keeping Perry came from Vice Chairman Gwendolyn H. Lewis. Last night, she was joined by board member Kenneth L. Foran, who voiced a belief that the board had acted too hastily in an effort to protect Perry's job.
Foran contended that the April decision permitting Perry to remain was legally faulty. He argued that it amounted to an improper incentive for her to plead guilty in court.
"The so-called April agreement is flawed and . . . should not have been used to get anyone to plead guilty," he said. "There can be no private agreements to influence the outcome of a case. I believe it is illegal."
Foran proposed that the April contract modifications be abandoned and the decision on whether to keep Perry be reviewed again.
The board majority disagreed, and members chided Foran, who had originally voted in favor of the modifications, for what they viewed as a belated change of heart. Board members said Perry was entitled to the salary increase.
"It is a provision that has been in the contract from the very beginning," said Chairman Mark O. Wilkoff. "It is a non-performance-based adjustment."
Wilkoff said that an annual raise is a part of Perry's contract and that she is entitled to a cost-of-living adjustment and an increase "by the average of the wage increase applicable to all employees" of the school system, according to the contract. Perry now makes $168,000 a year. The exact increase in her salary won't be known until after July 1, when the school district calculates average salaries and wage increases of all returning employees.
A handful of parents who had criticized the board's earlier decision to keep Perry attended last night's board meeting to protest the salary increase. Jim Boissonnault, who runs an anti-Perry Web site, asked the board to reconsider.
"The community is up in arms," said the father of two children, one of whom attends Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy. "She should have been on probation with no increase. Anybody who's been a manager is not going to give their employees anything if something like this happened."
Before the board voted, Perry said in an interview that she believed that the conditions of the amended contract were fair.
"The conditions were determined, and I've lived up to my end of the conditions," she said. She added that without a driver's license, she had been relying on taxis and rides from friends.
Perry's April 23 arrest came about three hours after a night meeting with Lyles-Crouch parents who were angry about her decision to transfer their popular principal, Lucretia Jackson, to academically struggling Maury Elementary School. Patricia Zissios, the departing principal of Crestwood Elementary School in Fairfax County, will take over at Lyles-Crouch in the fall.
Several Lyles-Crouch parents said they attended last night's meeting to let the School Board know they were watching.
"It bothers me that their whole spin is that this is a technicality," said Pam Matthews, who will have two children at Lyles-Crouch next year. "They said everybody knew about this in April. I don't remember there being a public discussion. As taxpayers, we should not have to request a copy of her contract to ensure that she doesn't get a raise."
Perry pleaded guilty Friday to the drunken-driving charge, and a city judge ordered her to pay a $300 fine and suspended her driving privileges for one year. Prosecutors say she can apply for a restricted license within a month.
During the public comment period, Boissonnault asked Perry to donate the $650 car allowance she receives under her contract for as long as her license is suspended. The money, he said, should go to Alexandria's chapter of Students Against Disruptive Decisions, previously known as Students Against Drunk Driving.
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.