Joe A. Hairston, Baltimore County's next schools superintendent, is a man in much demand.
Although Hairston has agreed to take charge of Baltimore County schools starting July 1, a job for which he will be paid $180,000 a year, education officials in Georgia, where he used to work, question whether he will be able to satisfy a contract he signed with them in January.
The contract confusion in Georgia could create problems for Hairston in Maryland. Members of the Baltimore County Board of Education, Hairston's new bosses, want him all to themselves.
"He knows that he has to give his all to Baltimore County," said school board President Donald L. Arnold, who defended Hairston in March when politicians, teachers and parents expressed concern that he might be a headstrong autocrat.
Hairston, who was appointed superintendent in Baltimore County this spring after a two-week delay, could not be reached yesterday to comment. He wants to work out a solution that will satisfy both employers, Arnold said.
Hairston resigned as superintendent of schools in Clayton County in January, two years before his contract was to expire, prompting school officials to agree to pay him $280,000 through June 2002.
As part of the agreement, Hairston promised to serve as a consultant to Clayton County schools -- but only at times and places agreeable to him. The contract makes clear that
Hairston should not "devote a major or substantial part of his time" to consulting.
"Under that contract it doesn't say anything that he has to show up on this day at that time to do X, Y or Z," said Gary M. Sams, an attorney for the Clayton County school board.
What Hairston will do for Clayton County is unclear -- a situation that has sparked debate recently.
This week, three members of the Clayton County school board rejected a $259 million proposed budget because it included $151,000 to pay Hairston during the next fiscal year. They asked how Hairston could earn the money while working full time in Baltimore County.
"My thinking is if that money's going to be in the budget, he needs to be down here working for it," board member Nedra Ware told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Baltimore County officials have a much different opinion regarding Hairston's commitment to his former employer.
"It isn't so much of a consulting contract as a buyout," said Arnold, referring to Hairston's Clayton County contract. "It's so loosely worded when you look at it that if it doesn't suit him to make a phone call, he doesn't have to make a phone call."
At the bidding of the Clayton County school board, Sams requested a copy of the contract Hairston signed with Baltimore County. Although Sams sent a letter asking for the document about two weeks ago, he has yet to receive it.
He said he's hopeful the two employers can reach an agreement -- soon. If they can't, the law may be on Clayton County's side.
"We do have a contract and that gives us certain rights," said Sams. "It was signed before the Baltimore County contract was signed."