The D.C. school board fired Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins yesterday during a tumultuous three-hour meeting that was stalled repeatedly by several hundred protesters and briefly marred by violence.
In an 8 to 3 vote, the board dismissed Jenkins without specifying a cause and placed him on 30-day leave. He will be paid the remainder of his $85,000 annual salary. The board appointed a school system administrator, William H. Brown, to temporarily assume the superintendent's job.
Minutes before those decisions, a crowd of parents, community activists and students who had boycotted their classes began hurling debris at the board. One member, Erika Landberg (Ward 3), was struck in the head by a water pitcher and sustained minor cuts. As police officers restrained the protesters, the board hastily cast its votes, which were inaudible amid the rancor.
Earlier, protesters had removed portraits of several board members from a wall and destroyed them. The office of another board member, Eugene Kinlow (At Large), was vandalized. At no point before the board vote did Jenkins attempt to calm or discourage the crowd, which numbered about 400 and included scores of students.
Instead, he launched a scathing attack on the board, calling it an unethical, racist, power-hungry pawn of The Washington Post. He accused the board of concealing accurate enrollment figures, misusing school funds and sabotaging his plan to have schools put more emphasis on African heritage.
"The board has led a personal attack on my integrity, it's not deserved, and I resent it," Jenkins said. Later, he said he had been "stripped naked" and crucified, and compared himself to Jesus Christ.
But the board, eight of whose members are black, did not flinch. Members said their intention to fire him was fortified in recent days by reports that Jenkins's top aides had pressured principals to leave their jobs for the day to join protests, and that his supporters had asked students to boycott classes.
Members also said they were incensed by Jenkins's conduct during yesterday's meeting. "The board decided that enough was enough," said member R. David Hall (Ward 2), who led the effort to fire Jenkins. "This man was becoming irrational. He was stooping to any level just to save his job."
Yesterday's board vote closes one of the most turbulent chapters in the school system's recent history. Jenkins, appointed superintendent by one vote in 1988, has bickered with most of the board's members from the start.
In July, the board offered Jenkins more than $200,000 to quit. He refused, and the board chose not to fire him while a crowd of his supporters watched. Instead, it voted not to extend his three-year contract once it expires next June -- but that hardly eased tensions between each side this fall.
Board members have criticized much of Jenkins's performance and said that schools have shown little improvement during his tenure. They complain that this year's enrollment count is nearly two months late. They also contend that Jenkins has not cut the school bureaucracy, has recklessly shuffled principals and top aides, and has bungled new academic projects.
Jenkins has said repeatedly that he believes his dismissal was prompted largely by his desire to introduce an Afrocentric curriculum to District schools, but the board denies that. Last year, it approved Jenkins's $750,000 request for the Afrocentric proposal. Nevertheless, many protesters at yesterday's meeting said they feared that the proposal was in jeopardy.
Jenkins and his supporters also argued that he had uncovered many of the problems within the school system and that his firing amounted to "shooting the messenger."
Others said that Jenkins should have been allowed to finish his term. The three board members who voted not to fire Jenkins -- board President Nate Bush (Ward 7), Angie Corley (Ward 5) and R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8) -- said they did not want to reverse the pledge they made to him in July.
"We had a graceful way for Dr. Jenkins to complete his term," Lockridge said. "But today we're creating a crisis because now for some reason board members can't wait to get rid of him."
Protesters spent hours picketing outside school system headquarters after the board's vote. Meanwhile, Jenkins and his legal representative, former D.C. Superior Court judge Harry T. Alexander, said they might file suit against the board. Protest leaders vowed to organize classroom boycotts next week, but Jenkins said he would discourage that idea.
His dismissal may well mark the end of a career that began nearly 30 years ago when Jenkins, a District native who graduated from Spingarn High School in Northeast, joined the school system as a science and physical education teacher. He later became the principal at several junior high schools, earning a reputation as a strict disciplinarian.
He moved through the ranks of the school administration to become Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie's top deputy. Those close to Jenkins say he coveted the superintendency for years.
He won the job in 1988 after McKenzie quit, despite board fears that he was too timid to lead a school system rife with politics and struggling to educate its students, a majority of whom live in poverty. At the time of his selection, a board majority said it felt Jenkins could keep the system stable.
Yesterday, eight members said those hopes had long since faded. "Keeping Dr. Jenkins until June only would have perpetuated the chaos we're now in," said board member Linda Cropp (Ward 4), who once supported Jenkins and has never rebuked him publicly. "It would not have been healthy for our children."
Jenkins's defiant stand before the vote shocked some board members. He began by having Alexander give a lengthy tribute to him, then tried to have Calvin W. Rolark, publisher of The Washington Informer, speak. But the board blocked that move, and Rolark strode angrily from the meeting.
Jenkins then berated the board for 15 minutes, and continued his attacks at a news conference after the vote. By that time, several of his most loyal aides said privately that they would not stand with him.
Brown, Jenkins's temporary replacement, has spent 30 years working in the D.C. schools. For the last two years he has been the system's vice superintendent.