Weast receives vote of confidence

Resolution supporting superintendent comes seven months before a new board can offer him a new contract

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

County schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast received a vote of confidence from the county school board on Tuesday, more than seven months before a new board will decide whether to offer Weast a new contract.

The board passed a resolution saying, in part, that the board ‘‘welcomes and encourages Dr. Weast’s continued leadership,” as it saluted his 30 years as a superintendent, including seven with Montgomery County schools.

The one-page resolution stated that the board ‘‘commends [Weast] for a job expertly done in Montgomery County, and strongly endorses his vision of continuing excellence in teaching and learning.”

The board ‘‘welcomes and encourages Dr. Weast’s continued leadership in order to further the progress of our ongoing, multi-year reform initiatives,” it said.

The resolution is a pre-emptive strike of sorts for Weast, who has led the school system through sweeping reforms in its elementary and high school programs.

The resolution passed 7-0. Board member Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring was not present.

Board member Valerie Ervin (Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said she supports the direction Weast is moving the school system, but questioned whether the resolution was necessary. At least one community member has questioned whether the timing of the resolution is appropriate.

With a pay package that totals around $359,000 a year, Weast is the county’s highest-paid employee.

His contract expires June 30. He has until Feb. 1 to tell the board whether he wants to stay on. The board has until March 1 to offer him a third four-year contract.

Tuesday’s resolution does not commit the board that will be elected in November to any action regarding Weast’s contract, board members said.

The face of the board will change after the election. Board President Charles Haughey (At large) of Rockville and Gabriel Romero (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village are not standing for re-election. Patricia B. O’Neill of Bethesda is running unopposed for re-election in District 3.

Ervin is a candidate for the District 5 County Council seat, and may not return. Stephen N. Abrams (Dist. 2) of Rockville is running for state comptroller.

Cyril Draffin, a community activist from Bethesda, in an e-mail to The Gazette that was copied to the state schools superintendent and attorney general, questioned whether the resolution was appropriate.

‘‘Many people strongly believe [Weast] has not done his job expertly, or even fairly, and there have been many flaws in his actions,” wrote Draffin, who helped lead of a community coalition opposed to the board’s plans to rebuild Seven Locks Elementary School in Potomac. ‘‘... The current board should not presume to make decisions that should be appropriately left to the new school board to make in 2007 when the superintendent’s contract is up for renewal.”

The resolution recognized that students who benefited from early childhood reforms, such as smaller class sizes and a strong focus on reading and math, that Weast initiated when he joined the school system in 1999 are about to enter middle school.

The school system is now studying how to reform middle school programs. Weast has said that he would like to see those reforms through, although school officials close to Weast say he regularly receives offers to lead other school systems.

‘‘I hope you will close your eyes, turn off your ears and don’t listen to that and know there is tremendous support for you here in Montgomery County,” said O’Neill, who along with Abrams was one of four board members who voted for Weast’s first contract in 1999.

School board candidates should say where they stand on Weast’s contract, O’Neill said, adding that she hoped they ‘‘will commit voluntarily to support” the superintendent.

Ervin voted for the resolution, although she offered no comments.

After the vote, Ervin called the discussion ‘‘unnecessary.”

‘‘It’s clear the superintendent has support from the board to come back,” she said.

She added that while she supports renewing Weast’s contract, she disagreed that candidates should ‘‘pledge their allegiance to the superintendent.”

‘‘To use this as a political litmus test, to me, is not necessary,” Ervin said. ‘‘It’s about how the system is doing its job to education all children.”

Weast thanked the board and credited it with taking on tough issues, such as the achievement gap that persists among racial and ethnic groups.

‘‘I think we have reached a time where we have the courage to talk about race,” Weast said. ‘‘Most school systems aren’t together on enough to even get to that level.”

For Weast to sign on as superintendent for a third four-year term, in an era when the average tenure of a superintendent is about three years, would be ‘‘extraordinary,” Abrams said.