In their evaluation of former Manassas school superintendent Sidney "Chip" Zullinger, city School Board members criticized him for the district's performance on standardized tests, a lack of ability to "provide inspiration," and his relationship with city officials and School Board members, according to a school system memorandum obtained by The Washington Post.
The memo said that one member told Zullinger he was partly responsible for "white and black flight" in the school district.
It also said that a majority of the city's eight School Board members told Zullinger that he needed to improve in several areas: instructional leadership, community relations, strategic planning and assessment, organizational management and professionalism.
The 13-page memo was written by Zullinger, 55, in September to address the School Board's annual evaluation of his fourth year presiding over the 6,700-student school system.
Zullinger did not release the memo to The Post. He declined to comment for this article.
The document provides previously unreleased details that reveal what led the School Board not to renew his contract nearly two weeks ago. Since the School Board's 4 to 2 vote at the end of September letting Zullinger go immediately, board members have not publicly elaborated on the reasons for their decision.
The memo, which alternates in tone between polite and mildly combative, provides a rare glimpse into the employee-employer relationship of a superintendent and his school board.
"I think you will agree that it has been a strenuous year for all of us," Zullinger's memo begins. "Nonetheless, the Board recently completed my evaluation, and I am compelled to provide some comments as to the content and correct several mis-statements."
In the memo, Zullinger defends himself against perceived shortcomings from School Board members, and attempts to correct apparent errors in their evaluation of him. One accusation came from a School Board member who alleged that Zullinger "was (in part) responsible for the white and black flight in the school district." Zullinger did not name the board member.
"I cannot imagine a more baseless comment than to suggest that my presence is the cause of the change in demographics," Zullinger wrote. "Where is the evidence that I am the catalyst for this change in our community? If there is empirical data to support this claim, please provide it."
Zullinger also tries to correct the record on other issues. "Another comment stated that an 'outrageous amount of money has been spent on legal bills in the last year (going way over budget)'," he wrote, explaining that, in fact, the district's legal bills were $30,000 under budget and were the lowest of the previous three years. "Again, what is the basis for this comment? What information supports this contention?" Zullinger wrote.
Zullinger defended the school system's pursuit of "annual yearly progress" (AYP), as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law, on the state's standardized exams. Making "AYP" means that a majority of all students -- including subgroups such as Hispanics and disadvantaged students -- pass standardized reading and math exams.
He said that School Board members had unfair or "not equitable" expectations of how a school district should fare in meeting the federal goals. He said in the School Board's eyes, a superintendent "needs improvement" if at least one school in his district does not make AYP and if the division does not make the benchmark.
"In fact," he wrote, for the 2003-04 school year, "only one school failed to make AYP. All other schools made AYP. Also, not all subgroups division wide failed. Only the special education student subgroup failed to make AYP division wide (as is the case with all surrounding jurisdictions)."
Although the Manassas city school division did not make AYP for tests taken in the 2003-04 school year, it did meet the benchmark for this past academic year.
The School Board also wanted the superintendent's staff to prepare more frequent financial reports, but Zullinger said that the process to estimate expenditures and prepare the data as often as they wanted is unrealistic. "Unfortunately, we do not have the staff resources in the finance office to be able to forecast year-end expenditures on a monthly basis," he wrote.
Zullinger's memo reveals numerous other problems that the majority of School Board members raised in his evaluation. He defended himself against their questioning of his ability to "provide inspiration" to students and staff by saying that "on average" he visits four to six schools a week, including attending night meetings and extracurricular activities.
"The fruits of these efforts are evidenced by the exemplary performance of our students this past year in a wide range of areas from academic achievement to athletics to teacher and staff retention rates," he wrote.
In a sign of how strained relations grew, Zullinger wrote about how one School Board member reprimanded him for meeting with board members individually, even though he had apparently been told not to.
"I cannot reasonably be expected to refuse a requested meeting with any of you," he wrote. "If the Board would like me to stop meeting with members, then the Board must decide that and then be willing to enforce the decision by policing its own members."
Manassas School Board Chairman Arthur P. Bushnell and Mary E. Andersen, the board's vice chairman, did not return phone calls left at their homes Friday.