Alonso signs on for four more years

Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso has signed on to lead the city school system for four more years, according to school board officials.

After nearly a year of negotiations, Alonso, who came to the city in 2007, signed a $260,000 contract Thursday that includes a monthly $750 car stipend and undetermined performance bonuses for the school system's improvement over the course of the contract. His previous contract expired Thursday.

The renewed commitment comes on the heels of the superintendent announcing this week that he would stay in Baltimore, even though the system noted its first significant declines on the Maryland School Assessments during his tenure. And last week, the schools chief announced that several schools had cheated on the tests during the years the city noted peak scores.

"The fact that we experienced a setback re-energizes me," Alonso said Thursday. "I am very happy, and I don't have buyer's remorse."

This year's city math pass rates declined by 5 percentage points, and reading by 3 percentage points. The results, announced Wednesday, come after the district had seen double-digit gains during Alonso's tenure.

"I have been very consistent that it takes time to build," he said. "I think consistency matters in leadership. I don't want to leave a legacy of incomplete work."

Neil Duke, chair of the city school board, said that after decades of high turnover among superintendents, the school board felt that retaining Alonso symbolized a stabilization for the city. The schools chief is the longest-serving superintendent since 1994, and if he completes his next term, he would be the longest-serving since 1946.

"Baltimore City has a history of not being able to preserve its superintendents for one reason or another," Duke said. "With this contract, we've bucked the trend of recent history of being unable to retain talent at the top of the district.

"There's so much work still left to be done," Duke said. "Continuity is incredibly important, and you don't get that continuity unless you have clear, continuous leadership."

Alonso signed a $230,000 contract in 2007, with $10,000 yearly bonuses. The new contract leaves intact the salary he was making when his first contract expired, Duke said. He said it was sensitive to the finances of the city.

Alonso, 54, said he "thought it would be wrong in terms of what I'm trying to communicate about outcomes to take a raise in a year where the scores are down."

In the new contract, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, the amount of performance pay Alonso will be able to earn will be determined by the board.

Duke said the board would do annual salary reviews to determine whether Alonso's salary was commensurate with his performance. Although the bonuses are not outlined in the contract, Duke said he could not imagine "there being a wild fluctuation of base salary."

However, the CEO has other incentives, including a more lucrative life insurance policy and long-term-care insurance policy. Duke called the change in policies "an added contractual incentive that helps to make up potential opportunity losses on his part." Alonso will also annually receive a "supplemental income" of 40 percent of his salary, a 5 percentage-point increase from his last contract, which he can invest in a retirement fund.

The details of Alonso's contract mirrored the previous one in clearly delineating his and the city school board's roles in managing the school system. The CEO was drawn to the district three years ago after he was granted the autonomy to run the district as he saw fit.

More job security was added in the new contract under a clause specifying that the board would need to follow a standard under Maryland law for dismissing educators. The board can still unilaterally terminate Alonso's contract after two unsatisfactory performance evaluations.

Alonso's renewed tenure came on the day that another school leader's ended.

In her final statement to the news media before retiring as state superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick said that after all the trials and triumphs she has seen in the city, "changing policies and superintendents at this point would be a setback for students."

"Dr. Alonso understands the challenges that confront Baltimore City schools, and he never minimizes them," Grasmick said. "More than that, he has the clear vision and understanding to strengthen school achievement and advance learning opportunities for every student."

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