Baltimore County school board members voted unanimously last night to increase school Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's retirement benefits, a week after he withdrew from consideration for a similar job in Virginia.
After the meeting, Hairston promised that he would remain in Baltimore County through the end of his contract in 2008. "I will not betray my commitment to this community and this board," he said.
The 11 members present voted in favor of a plan to transfer his annual $10,800 bonus to his salary, which will improve his retirement benefits. Only board Vice President Warren Hayman was absent.
"I'm just compelled to follow through on a mission," Hairston said, adding that he felt "humbled" and "appreciative" at the board's action changing his compensation formula.
School board President Tom Grzymski said he had talked to the members individually about the compensation change. "I was counting votes every day," he said.
Hairston has received generally good marks for efforts to improve achievement among Baltimore County's more than 107,000 students since he arrived in 2000. The county's average cumulative SAT scores have increased since 2002 from 997 to 1025, though the county's neighborhoods show stark differences in performance. The schools chief also has been honored for his use of technology.
Hairston said, however, that he felt compelled to give the Virginia job offer serious thought, given personal circumstances. His mother lives in Virginia Beach, and Hairston owns a condominium there. His sister also lives in nearby Chesapeake, Va., where Hairston spent part of his childhood.
"In good conscience, how could you ignore it?" he said.
Virginia Beach school board Chairman Daniel D. Edwards said last week that Hairston implied he would stay because Baltimore County would increase his salary and benefits.
But Baltimore County board members denied last week that he had been promised any additional compensation. Last night's meeting was their first opportunity to discuss the topic as a group since Hairston turned down the Virginia Beach job.
County school board members gave Hairston a $45,000 raise in 2004 when they renewed the superintendent's contract for another four years. The boost brought his annual base pay to $230,000 -- a 24 percent increase. In June, they increased his salary an additional 4 percent, to $239,200 annually. The school board also amended Hairston's contract at that time so the superintendent would receive the same raises as those negotiated for classroom teachers. Hairston also received a $10,800 bonus in August.
With the change approved last night, Hairston's base pay will be $250,000.
The career educator has worked more than three decades in Prince George's and Baltimore counties, leaving him eligible for retirement without penalty under state law. His pension will be based on an average of his highest three years' base pay.
The superintendent did not rule out last week the possibility that he might leave in the future.
"Who knows what the future will bring?" he said then.
That upset Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican who represents parts of eastern Baltimore County and Harford County, who said the school board should ban Hairston from seeking other jobs.
Though the delegate said he personally likes Hairston, "I don't like this dimension to his leadership," he said.
"This is not about Joe Hairston's career enhancement. This should be about honoring a contract and paying attention to the needs of children," McDonough said.
But if the schools chief had pursued the Virginia Beach office, the county school board might have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to replace him.
The search that identified Anne Arundel County Superintendent Eric J. Smith in 2002 cost $62,100, including the search firm's fees and travel expenses for prospects and school board members. Smith ended his term yesterday because of deteriorating relationships with school board members, less than a year before his contract was set to expire.
Anne Arundel's school board will pay the Maryland Association of Boards of Education $27,000 to find potential replacements.
In other business, the school board voted, 11-0, to deny an application to start a public charter school for high school dropouts at a federal job training center in Woodstock. Adams and Associates Inc., the company that administers the Job Corps Center for the U.S. Department of Labor, wants to help more students obtain high school diplomas. A school system committee that reviewed the application recommended rejection, however, because it said the application lacked necessary documents and failed to meet state standards in several areas.