The Howard County Board of Education formally rescinded a controversial amendment to school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's contract during its meeting yesterday after the Maryland attorney general's office deemed it illegal last week.
"Quite frankly, it's time to put this behind us," O'Rourke said, thanking the board for offering the change in the first place.
The amendment, added in November, promised to renew O'Rourke's contract at the first legal opportunity or pay him one year's salary in penalty fees.
It caused a storm of community criticism after former board member Virginia Charles publicly denounced the addendum as an attempt to skirt Maryland law, which states that a superintendent's contract cannot be renewed until February of the year it expires - next year, in O'Rourke's case.
Other board members said they had done nothing wrong, but the attorney general's opinion, generated at the request of the county's legislative delegation, said otherwise. It agreed with Charles, and came down June 16 - the same day that Charles, who took a lot of heat for speaking out, resigned her board position for health reasons.
After the four remaining board members unanimously voted to withdraw the offending amendment last night, they promptly added a new one to O'Rourke's contract raising his salary by $6,500 - to $197,300 starting in July. They also promised to contribute $4,000 to a "tax shelter annuity selected by the superintendent."
Sandra H. French, the board chairman, said the exemplary annual review of the superintendent's work, particularly in areas of academic achievement, showed he deserved the increase.
Some in the county are not as pleased about strides students are making, however.
The Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People brought its annual "Education Report Card" before the board last night with many failing grades for county schools in areas of attendance and test performance.
Natalie Woodson, chairwoman of the branch's education committee, said she was troubled by a continuing trend of African-American students not meeting state test standards, particularly at the elementary level, which she characterized as "deplorable."
The school system has promised to close the gap by 2007, and is working with the Howard NAACP to do so.
The report card, which interprets 2002 data, assigns grades to county schools, rating the progress their African-American students are making.
A good portion of the elementary schools received failing grades based on their performance on the last round of Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing, which is being replaced next year.
"All subject areas certainly need some improvement," Woodson said.
Two relatively bright spots in the report were at the high school level, Woodson said. Centennial High has never received an "F" or "D" grade in any category in the three years the NAACP has been compiling the report card, and Long Reach received just one "D" grade in 2000.
Schools were on the minds of several dozen parents in the audience as well, but less for academics than for community bonds as the board held a hearing to get input on emergency redistricting options. The choices were offered at its last meeting in an effort to correct decisions made in the fall that have been shown to be faulty.
Some parents implored the board to let the flawed decisions stand, claiming their children were used to the idea of being redistricted to a new school and had bonded with the community.
"The children no longer think of themselves as Waterloo students, but as Bellows Spring students," said Karen Leban, whose children were redistricted into Bellows Spring Elementary School in an earlier decision but faced being sent back.
After parent testimony and some debate, the board decided to alter the decisions made months ago by agreeing to reassign two housing developments not yet occupied to Waterloo Elementary from Bellows Spring Elementary.
The move helps alleviate problems uncovered by the newest enrollment projections, which predicted Waterloo would be severely underenrolled in the near future and Bellows Spring overenrolled.
Board member Courtney Watson said the decision was the best one because it affected the least number of pupils and does not put just-redistricted children in the position of having to move again in a year or two.
"I just can't get comfortable with that," Watson said of the prospect of multiple moves.