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Brizard’s contract scrutinized with move

Jean-Claude Brizard

Before Rochester City School Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard heads off to Chicago, he needs to work out a legal issue in his contract.

The contract Brizard signed in November says it may be terminated by mutual agreement of the superintendent and board of education.

It indicates a $235,000 salary the first year, which went into effect Jan. 2 and was to expire June 30, 2014. Board President Malik Evans met Monday with the school district’s attorney, T. Andrew Brown of Brown & Hutchinson, and planned to brief the board that evening in a special executive session.

The announcement that Brizard would take over as superintendent of Chicago Public Schools was made Monday morning in Chicago by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. Evans said he was not surprised about the news, but the manner in which it was announced.

“This is very unprecedented for a system to announce an appointee without the appointee having a full conversation with his current employer,” Evans said. “We knew that his name was on a short list.”

Evans was not immediately sure about the legalities of the contract, but acknowledged the district would not be able to keep someone who did not want to be here.

“We have to move forward,” Evans said. “The first step is obviously getting a handle around the clause ‘mutually agreed.’”

The district issued a release that says Brizard will have a press conference at the RCSD central office on Wednesday morning. The release notes Brizard will be out of the office and unavailable for comment until then.
“After careful thought and heartfelt deliberation,” Brizard will resign at the end of this school year, according to the release.

In a letter to Evans, Brizard described the difficulty with which he made the decision. He expressed great pride in the accomplishments of the district to date, referring to increases in student achievement and expanded school options for children, as some of the most important work of his career.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve the children and families of Rochester for nearly three and a half years,” Brizard wrote. “I thank the many parents, countless committed educators and staff members, and the community and business leaders who have offered their unwavering encouragement, resources and technical expertise in service to our children.

“Likewise, working with the dedicated individuals who comprise the Rochester Board of Education has been a tremendous opportunity. Most importantly, I thank the students of Rochester for demonstrating their wealth of talents and skills to all of us. Each is indeed a work of art destined to become a masterpiece,” he wrote.

Brizard became Rochester superintendent of schools in January 2008 after 21 years as an educator in New York City. His reign has been tumultuous at times, with the board and city fighting over mayoral control of the district and some teachers and parents opposed to reforms Brizard tried to implement.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of tension,” Rochester Mayor Thomas S. Richards said. “I’m disappointed that he’s leaving. I don’t hold it against him personally. I don’t think it’s good for the city for these positions to keep changing all the time. I liked him and supported him. I felt that was someone we could stick with.”

Richards said the city needs to do some soul searching. He said everyone needs to get on the same page to find someone they’re going to be able to support. He said the city is not in charge, but needs to make itself felt.

“It is a significant issue,” Richards said. “We’re never going to be the kind of city we want to be if the school district doesn’t do better. This problem is not going to go away.”

The school district release also outlines “significant accomplishments” made under Brizard’s tenure that have drawn national attention to its reform efforts. Schools have:

• Raised the four-year graduation rate from 39 percent in 2007 to 51 percent in 2010;
• Prepared more students for success in college, with a 250 percent increase in students taking AP courses since 2007 and 77 percent of college-going graduates persisting in college;
• Dramatically decreased suspensions from 16,729 in 2006 to 5,165 in 2010;
• Improved business processes, resulting in cost savings of over $51 million; and
• Launched the 10-year, $1.2 billion Rochester Schools Modernization Program.

“Behind each of these accomplishments lies the hard work and dedication of an exceptional leadership team,” Brizard said. “The Rochester City School District attracts state and national attention for the results of its aggressive reform agenda that puts student achievement first. The data show that we are on the right track and have laid the foundation for continuous progress.”

Brizard expressed confidence that the progress will continue under the leadership of Evans and board Vice President Jose Cruz, and with the support of Richards and the district’s senior leadership team.

“This district and city have seen a tipping point, and there is an unwavering commitment by a huge portion of the community to stay child-focused and make the difficult decisions that will produce sustainable change for our children,” Brizard said.