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Over Angry Protests, D.C. Superintendent Is Fired

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Over the angry protests of demonstrators who disrupted order at a board meeting, the District of Columbia Board of Education voted late last month to fire its embattled superintendent.

The board voted 8 to 3 to place Superintendent of Schools Andrew E. Jenkins 3rd on immediate leave, shortly after a violent eruption among about 400 protesters at the Nov. 30 session who rushed the podium and hurled debris at board members. Portraits of board members were pulled from a wall and destroyed, and one member's office was vandalized, according to those who were present.

"Eight of us went in with great resolve [to dismiss the schools chief], and a demonstration would not have moved us," said Erika Landberg, a board member who required one stitch and a tetanus shot after she was struck in the head by a water pitcher during the disturbance, which was quelled by police.

The vote ended Mr. Jenkins's controversial tenure with still more controversy, as supporters charged that the the board was appeasing the white business establishment and trying to undo the city's Afro-centric curriculum.

Mr. Jenkins's position began to seriously erode last spring, when the board admitted that its request to the city council for a 20 percent budget increase had been based on erroneous enrollment figures that administrators had known about for months. The council drastically cut that request, citing the uncertainty over the enrollment count. (See Education Week, March 28, 1990.)

In June, an audit revealed that a sharp drop in enrollment had been concealed by school officials.

In July, the board offered the superintendent more than $200,000 to quit. When he refused, board members voted not to extend his three-year contract, which expires next June, and to begin searching for a replacement.

Board members claim that since that vote, Mr. Jenkins has fought for his job by filling the administrative ranks with friends and drumming up public support.

"It has become increasingly clear that it was not going to be easy to conduct an effective search with Dr. Jenkins as an incumbent," Ms. Landberg said. "By word and deed, he has made it clear that he was going to seek a renewal of his contract. We were afraid he was going to scare away prospective candidates."

Jim Ford, a former school-board budget analyst and researcher, said that the board may have made Mr. Jenkins a scapegoat for the district's myriad problems in time for budget hearings with the city council next February.

"They may say, 'Things were out of control, but once we found the problem we got on top of it and fired the superintendent,"' said Mr. Ford, now a budget and research analyst for a city-council member.

The board also might have decided to punish Mr. Jenkins for fielding an unsuccessful slate of supporters in last month's school-board elections, he suggested.

R. David Hall, the board member who led the move against Mr. Jenkins, denied those charges, saying that the board had given the superintendent ample power and time since his selection in 1988 to make changes, but that he had done little.

Mr. Hall said the superintendent was asked to certify enrollment twice in October, but the board still does not know the true figure.

He said that special-education and building funds have not been spent properly, that constant staff shuffling has caused chaos in the district, and that continuing classroom vacancies have taken their toll on the quality of the district's education.

He also denied charges of racism. Eight board members are black, as is Mr. Jenkins, and five of those who endorsed his firing are black. "Do you call that racism?" Mr. Hall asked.

But the superintendent's supporters said that outside, white-run organizations were trying to undermine Mr. Jenkins and the Afro-centric curriculum he helped initiate.

"The schools in the district are being controlled by outside forces," said Valencia Mohammed, director of Operation Know Thyself, an organization promoting Afro-centrism.

She referred to the D.C. Committee on Public Education, a coalition of businesses, and Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, which Ms. Mohammed asserted "is mainly run by white lawyers using black spokesmen to do their dirty work."

Mr. Jenkins and his supporters fear that the board will move to dismantle the curriculum. Last year, the board approved Mr. Jenkins's $750,000 request for the curriculum, and board members insist that they remain committed to the program.

Board members and others acknowledged that the supercharged4atmosphere will make the search for a successor to Mr. Jenkins difficult.

Limits on the superintendent's salary, which by law cannot exceed the mayor's, may also hinder the search, board members concede. Mr. Jenkins earned $85,000 a year, far short of the $100,000 or more many big-city superintendents can earn.

Mr. Jenkins will be paid the remainder of his annual salary. The board appointed a school-system administrator, William H. Brown, as interim superintendent.

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