The D.C. school board, in a hasty reversal apparently provoked by pressure from protesters, agreed last night to allow Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins to complete the last year of his contract, but decided not to give him another term.
Amid about 100 cursing, jeering protesters, the 11 board members voted with one dissent to let Jenkins finish the third year of his contract, which expires next June. Meanwhile, the board will begin looking for a replacement to lead the 81,300-student school system.
Only hours before the vote, Jenkins rejected a $250,000 offer from the board to quit, school system sources said. Jenkins met twice yesterday with school board President Nate Bush (Ward 7), who had been asked by the board to propose a deal for his resignation.
But sources said Jenkins balked, saying that he would not resign unless he received a settlement of about $400,000 and that he would prefer, regardless of the money, to remain on the job.
That move surprised the board, which was so confident a deal could be made that it had called a 4 p.m. public meeting to ratify it. Once the board members heard Jenkins's decision, some suggested he be fired, but eventually a majority decided against it.
"Dr. Jenkins called our bluff," said school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8). "He wasn't all that interested in money, he was interested in his dignity. The board underestimated what he would yield to."
Jenkins, who encouraged the protests, said he was pleased with the board's decision and would work hard during his last year. "All I wanted was just to complete my contract and serve the city's children," he said.
One board member, Eugene Kinlow (At Large), voted against keeping Jenkins until next June. As of Wednesday night, though, at least eight members had wanted him removed, board sources said.
"We have a crisis in education that demands to be fixed today," Kinlow said. "Delaying it 11 more months is not a responsible solution."
After the vote, board members said they were concerned about Jenkins's ability to finish his last year while the board looked for his replacement. Board sources said they expect that search to begin in October in hopes of having someone hired by next spring to afford an easy transition.
Board member Bob Boyd (Ward 6) said the board's relations with Jenkins could remain turbulent. "I think it's very problematic," he said. "It may be extremely difficult for him to operate. But all of us have a vested interest in beating the odds and making this work."
The board's compromise with Jenkins was worked out in a two-hour, closed-door session with him that was convened abruptly after board members were greeted by protesters jammed inside school system headquarters.
The demonstrators were a loose-knit group of parents, teachers and community activists. Among them was a group called Operation Know Thy Self, which has been urging Jenkins to revamp the schools curriculum to highlight the achievements and culture of blacks. Leaders of the city's two largest parent groups, Parents United and the D.C. Congress of PTAs, were not at the meeting.
"The board thought they were going to have a political lynching with no witnesses, but the witnesses showed up," said Sheila Poole, a school system employee and parent whose daughter attends Jefferson Junior High School. "Our kids suffer every time these whimsical changes come through their heads."
Last night, board members disagreed on what impact the protest had on their decision. Some said that once Jenkins rejected their offer, they realized firing him in public could become an embarrassing spectacle.
Protests began about 4 p.m. and continued for three hours. At one point, a few dozen parents, led by Joe Person, an Adams-Morgan community activist, pounded on a conference room door where the board was meeting privately. They demanded board members face the public.
Later, Person and the crowd marched again to the door but were blocked by security aides. They began chanting, "Fire the board," and "Jenkins must stay." About 6 p.m., Jenkins emerged to thank the protesters. He raised his fist and shouted, "I want to assure you I remain very committed and loyal to our cause. I would not resign."
Many protesters said they believed Jenkins had been treated unfairly and they criticized the board for meeting privately to discuss his contract. Since late June, board members have held five closed-door sessions to discuss whether Jenkins should be ousted.
The board met Monday and Wednesday with Jenkins, who began work in the school system three decades ago. Most members have complained that since his hiring as superintendent in June 1988, Jenkins has bungled many projects and hired an ineffective team.
He was offered a deal in which he would receive his final year's salary as superintendent and another year's salary at an administrative level to reach retirement age and begin collecting a full pension.
Sources said that in yesterday's meeting, a few members reversed field, saying it would do no harm to keep him while a successor is sought.
"Today, we have had a meeting of the minds," Bush said. "This is the best, most reasonable approach."