During a heated meeting last Thursday, the Alexandria School Board defeated Vice Chairman Gwendolyn H. Lewis's bid for reelection and voted member Mary "Mollie" Danforth into the position.
In April, Lewis cast the lone vote against a proposal to let Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry keep her job after she was arrested on a charge of drunken driving. Last month, Lewis also opposed a plan to shorten Perry's contract by one year but still give her the same pay increase that other school system employees received. The contract was approved.
On Thursday night, several parents from Lewis's district attended the School Board meeting to show their support for her. When she was defeated, they accused the School Board of being racist -- Lewis is black -- and of punishing her for her opinion.
Perry's new contract, which took effect last Thursday, ends in June 2005. Her 6.5 percent pay increase is the same as the average for all school district employees; she will make about $178,850.
After Perry's arrest April 23, the School Board held a week-long fact-finding investigation before deciding she should keep her job, with the stipulation that her contract be shortened by one year and that she enroll in alcohol counseling. Lewis remained unconvinced that was enough.
"If I was arrested for driving while intoxicated while being superintendent of schools, I would not have allowed my board to debate my fate," Lewis said at the April 29 meeting. "I would not have put my community through that. I would tender my resignation. I am focusing on the mixed message we are sending our children."
Lewis did not return a call for comment on losing her vice chairman position.
Danforth won six of the nine votes; board members Kenneth L. Foran and Charles H. Wilson voted for Lewis, who voted for herself.
School Board member Mark O. Wilkoff was reelected chairman; he ran unopposed. He said his goal for next year is for community members and School Board members to have a better dialogue.
"I think within the School Board, we need to keep focused on the education of the children," Wilkoff said. "All the leadership of the community has got to work together so we can dialogue without people getting nasty and mean. It's been difficult, and we've seen more of that in the last few months."
In other business, the School Board awarded an $89 million contract to Hensel Phelps Construction, a company based in Greeley, Colo., for the construction of a new T.C. Williams High School.
The School Board resumes meeting late next month, when it has planned a retreat.