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Seattle Chief Rejects $500,000 Bonus Offer

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Seattle Superintendent John Henry Stanford has turned down an offer of a $500,000 bonus that supporters say reflects widespread confidence in the leadership of the former U.S. Army general.

The bonus plan was originally a response by a group of local business people to rumors that Mr. Stanford was leaving his $193,000-a-year post for a private-sector job. The offer would have required the superintendent to remain through the 2001-02 school year, two years beyond his current contract, and meet six performance goals.

But last week, before the school board could vote on whether it should allow the offer to be tendered by the district's nonprofit fund-raising arm, Mr. Stanford said, "no thanks."

"I am not motivated by this $500,000, and I respectfully decline the offer as a condition to remain here," the 59-year-old administrator told local reporters last week. "If I had $500,000, what I'd do with it is do something for the teachers in our schools who don't make a living wage."

Mr. Stanford has repeatedly said he did not take the district's top administrative post for the money, but from a desire to tackle the challenges of an urban school system. He took a slight pay cut when he left his job as the county manager of Fulton County, Ga., to become superintendent of the 47,000-student Seattle schools in 1995.

More Than Most

As superintendent, his compensation totals about $195,000, more than most urban schools chiefs and considerably more than those who head school systems with fewer than 50,000 children, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based organization of urban districts.

Robin K. Pasquarella, the president of the Alliance for Education, the civic and business organization that would have been the conduit for the money, said it is well known that Mr. Stanford receives many job offers in both the private and public sectors.

But, she added, the plan gave rise to public misunderstanding. Some people believed it would divert money from existing efforts, while in reality it would have created a bonus fund from new contributions. Ms. Pasquarella characterized those who pledged money to the proposed fund as people who had already given time and money to the schools.

Still, she said, "it was driving a wedge between him and his staff to have this kind of issue on the table--and he didn't want that."

Verleeta Wooten, the president of the Seattle Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association that represents the district's 2,900 teachers, praised Mr. Stanford for his action. "I think our teachers will respond very positively to the way he's handled the situation," she said.

'Rather Extraordinary'

Even though the proposal didn't go through, school system boosters say the real news is what the offer represents. "It's rather extraordinary for business people to step forward and say, 'We think you're on the right track,'" said Dorothy Dubia, a spokeswoman for the district.

Gary Marx, a spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va., said such offers from the private sector are rare. "It certainly sends a message of appreciation from the business community," he added.

In fact, Mr. Stanford is often credited with infusing the schools with new energy and new ideas, and he has enjoyed fairly widespread support from the teachers' union, the business community, and parents. Last year, test scores showed gains almost across the board.

Mr. Stanford was the first high-ranking military officer to be tapped for such a high-profile school post, and one of the first noneducators to take the helm of a large, urban school district. The District of Columbia and Boulder, Colo., schools are now also headed by military retirees. ("A Military Man Takes Charge of Seattle Schools," Oct. 11, 1995.)

He "has rekindled the hope that you can fix an intractable problem," Ms. Pasquarella said. "It's what's gotten people to get out their checkbooks, sign up to volunteer, or mobilize their company."

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