School chief's Virginia Beach ties could pull him to new job

Hairston's mother, condo there

move could have added financial benefits

November 05, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools chief Joe A. Hairston gets along with the members of the school board. Standardized test scores have risen for many of the school system's 108,000 students. And he earns nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year.

So why would he consider leaving the nation's 24th-largest school system to take the helm of a public school district about three-quarters of that size in Virginia Beach, Va.?

Through a spokesman, Hairston declined to comment, but there appear to be a number of reasons for him to think about heading to Virginia - some of them personal, some financial.

Hairston spent part of his childhood, including playing high school football, not far from Virginia Beach. Several school board members said Hairston's mother lives in Virginia Beach. He has been known to vacation at a condominium he owns there.

Also, as of 2002, the career educator, 58, became eligible for retirement, having served more than three decades in Baltimore and Prince George's counties. Under state law, if Hairston took another job, he could earn a paycheck while simultaneously collecting his full pension, two school board members said.

The Virginia Beach school board announced Thursday that Hairston is its "preferred finalist" for the top schools job there, and said officials hope to sign a contract with him within a month.

Baltimore County school board member Donald L. Arnold said he suspected Hairston might not stay out or renew his contract here. Only three school board members remain of the 12 who hired him five years ago.

After nearly 27 years of service in a variety of roles - including teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent - for Prince George's County schools, Hairston spent nearly five years as superintendent in Clayton County, Ga. He was prompted to resign in 2000 after his relationship with the school board grew rocky. He started in Baltimore County soon after.

"If he decides to go, we wish him well," Arnold said.

School board Chairman Tom Grzymski said Hairston's relationship with the board "is as good as it can be. ... We've had disagreements, but I think we've worked through those."

School superintendent terms average about 3 1/2 years, said Bruce S. Cooper, the chairman of educational leadership at Fordham University.

"Sometimes you're pushed out, sometimes you're pulled out" by personal reasons, such as family concerns, Cooper said.

The professor said he has studied waterfront districts, and said that, like Baltimore County, Virginia Beach is a complex community, with retirees and vacationers who own second homes as well as middle-class and poor residents.

Arnold added that Virginia Beach has a lot of military families, and Hairston knows what that's like. His father, a Navy officer, was stationed at the Norfolk, Va., naval base twice.

School board member Rodger Janssen said rumors have circulated regularly about potential job offers for Hairston.

"I think Joe's doing a really good job here," he said. Last year, his colleagues agreed with him. The school board renewed Hairston's contract in 2004 for another four years and gave him a $45,000 raise, bringing his salary to $239,200. Hairston faces no penalties under his contract if he leaves early.

Janssen is looking forward to Tuesday's school board meeting, where he and other board members can discuss the situation with the superintendent.

If Virginia Beach wants to hire Hairston, Janssen said he does not think the school system should make a counteroffer.

"I think that the board, to try to attempt to get into a bidding war, would not serve the students and community of Baltimore County," Janssen said.

Two Virginia Beach school board members will visit and conduct interviews in Baltimore County on Wednesday, said Virginia Beach school board Chairman Daniel D. Edwards.

The board will meet Nov. 15, he said, and might decide then to negotiate a contract with Hairston. They won't hold a formal vote to accept him, however, until contract talks are complete - likely the first week of December, Edwards said.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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