Board moved quickly to retain Hairston

Idea to increase Balto. Co. system head's benefits followed news of candidacy for Va. post

November 24, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

.. The idea of increasing Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's retirement benefits surfaced not long after he emerged as the leading candidate to head another school system, the president of the county school board said yesterday.

Board of Education President Tom Grzymski said that he talked with Hairston days after the Virginia Beach, Va., school board announced it was interested in hiring him, and the contract change that would help persuade Hairston to stay was set in motion.

"I found out what could be done to keep him here," Grzymski said yesterday, a day after the school board voted unanimously to transfer Hairston's 2005 bonus to his base salary. "It seemed like a reachable goal and a salable point to the board members."

Hairston did not want to discuss the change that brought his base pay to $250,000 a year, saying, "It's not about money."

He said he intends to stay in Baltimore County until his contract expires in 2008.

"I have every reason to recommit myself," the superintendent said at a news conference yesterday.

County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said he is glad Hairston is staying but added that he "really thought he was being compensated well enough."

"He had already had a contract for Baltimore County and made a commitment for the four years," Bartenfelder said.

Grzymski said that transferring Hairston's $10,800 bonus to the base pay, which will be used to calculate his pension and serve as a basis for future raises, has no immediate fiscal impact on the county. He added that he is pleased that Hairston has vowed to remain at the helm. "The board did not ask him to make that commitment," he said.

Virginia Beach school officials had announced Nov. 3 that Hairston was their "preferred finalist" for superintendent. Baltimore County school board members discussed the matter with Hairston at their Nov. 8 meeting.

Grzymski said he had dinner with the superintendent the next day.

"Our view was that we wanted to keep Dr. Hairston here to continue in the direction that the system is going," Grzymski said.

A school board member had suggested adding Hairston's bonus to his salary, Grzymski said. During dinner, Hairston "indicated to me that he was fairly confident that if that was the case, he would stay," Grzymski said.

The school board president then discussed the proposal with fellow board members individually. Under state law, school boards convening to discuss personnel matters, including superintendents' contracts, can go behind closed doors so long as the meeting is announced.

Grzymski said he was "fairly Confident" that he had enough votes "to make the modification" when Hairston called to withdraw his name from consideration in Virginia Beach on Nov. 15, the night its school board planned to decide whether to begin contract negotiations. Hairston implied that Baltimore County intended to improve his pay and benefits, Virginia Beach school board Chairman Daniel D. Edwards said then.

Grzymski and other school board members said last week that they had not voted on or promised Hairston any increased compensation. Their first opportunity to consider such a plan would be several days later at a school board meeting, the board president said then.

"I wanted to make sure, before we started playing this out in the press, that I could get it through the board," Grzymski said.

Tuesday night, Baltimore County school board members agreed 11-0 to shift Hairston's performance bonus to his salary. Although he won't immediately receive additional money, future cost-of-living increases and his pension will be calculated based on this new figure.

At yesterday's news briefing, Hairston said he wanted to finish the work he had started with the more than 107,000 children in Baltimore County's school system.

"We'll follow the course," Hairston said.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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