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School board voted against giving Hairston a new contract

Joe A. HairstonNancy GrasmickHurricane Irene (2011)

A month before longtime Baltimore County school Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said he will step down when his contract ends in June, the school board voted in private not to extend his employment.

Hairston officially notified school board President Lawrence Schmidt on Monday morning in a phone call that he would not seek another four-year contract, after telling The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that he always intended to leave.

"I am glad Dr. Hairston has told us he is not a candidate," Schmidt said, adding that it gives the board more than six months to hire a new leader. Schmidt had no comment on the vote.

Schmidt said he plans to announce the beginning of the process for choosing a new superintendent at the board meeting Tuesday night.

Hairston did not return messages seeking comment on the vote.

The school board met in executive session to discuss Hairston's future shortly after Hurricane Irene went through Maryland at the end of August, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. After several hours of discussion, the board took an anonymous "yes" or "no" vote on whether to offer Hairston another contract, the sources said.

When the votes were tallied, Hairston did not receive a majority.

Two board members, including Schmidt, went to Hairston several days later to deliver the news, according to a source. Several sources said the board left it up to Hairston to make an announcement.

Hairston did not indicate to the board before the vote whether he wanted another contract or not, a source said.

The vote by the school board was an informal one because it was not taken in public, but the board can discuss personnel issues in executive session before taking a formal vote.

The news that Hairston's tenure would end after his current contract was not unexpected. Hairston told The Baltimore Sun last year that he was unlikely to seek another term.

Even before the board vote, former state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick encouraged Hairston to get ahead of the speculation over whether he would seek another contract.

Grasmick said she advised him to make the decision on his own terms. "I suggested that it's better to determine the timing yourself," she said.

Under Maryland law, superintendents must notify their boards by Feb. 1 whether they intend to seek another term. However, superintendent searches can take many months, so the earlier Hairston made an announcement, the longer the board would have to find a replacement.

Hairston will have served three terms. While he still had support on the school board, sources said many members believed it was time for a change.

Hairston wrote in an email to The Sun on Thursday: "Twelve years is a tremendous run for any superintendent."

Hairston has come under criticism over the past two years from parents, teachers and lawmakers over a perceived lack of transparency. At issue have been a controversial grading system written by an employee who was then given the copyright, as well as the use of school facilities by the public and the elimination of about 200 teaching positions.

The system faces significant challenges in the next two years, including negotiations over a new teacher evaluation system and a tight budget.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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