Readers of Patch received news last week of another sad chapter in the history of Joe Hairton's tenure as the Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent. As in the past, this latest bombshell is indicative of an administrator who felt he was entitled to unilaterally make crucial decisions—without consultation with the Board of Education—and with little or no regard for the citizens he was supposed to serve.
In early July 2011, Superintendent Hairston finalized new employment contracts with two top-level school employees: Chief Communications Officer Phyllis Reese and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Donald Peccia. These contracts were negotiated during a period when there was broad speculation regarding Hairston's future with BCPS.
A review of these contracts indicates that they were highly unusual in two respects. First, they state that the superintendent cannot terminate the employees for any reason other than "gross misconduct." Moreover, if the system were to eliminate these positions as part of any future staff reduction, the incumbents must be paid for the balance of their contract terms. Thus, any future superintendent is on the hook to pay these people, even if he or she opts not to keep them on staff, in any position whatsoever.
Second, the contracts do not specify the salaries of these employees. This omission is noteworthy, given that existing regulations require the school board to approve ALL expenditures in excess of $25,000. Peccia receives a salary of $158,652 a year with two more years on his contract, while Reese earns $142,549, with one more year on hers. Clearly, both agreements require the outlay of sums well in excess of the $25,000 threshold.
Only an administrator that was preparing to walk out the door would agree to terms like these. Clearly, Hairston sensed that his days as BCPS superintendent were numbered. His instincts were accurate given that, barely a month later in August 2011, the school board took an informal vote where a majority of members voted against offering a contract extension to Hairston.
Fast-forward to the present, and we have the unconscionable situation where a new superintendent, Dr. Dallas Dance, has his hands tied with regard to both a personnel and a fiscal issue. At once he is forced to keep individuals on staff that he would rather see depart, while also being required to pay these same employees hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation—funds that could be put to better use in direct support of educating Baltimore County's young people.
It seems to me that the duty of the Board of Education at this time is obvious. Given that these contracts were never subject to the legally-required board vote, they should immediately be declared as null and void. Thus, Dr. Dance can terminate these individuals, and redeploy the funds that would have paid them in an appropriate manner.
Additionally, Board President Lawrence Schmidt should call for an immediate review of all contracts approved by Hairston during his last year as superintendent. We simply must determine if any more legally invalid employment agreements presently exist. Let's put to bed the Hairston era once and for all, and give Dr. Dance a clean slate to move forward.