Albemarle’s School Board stands by superintendent to extend his contract after receiving petition signed by 1,600 people to end it
Albemarle County School Board enthusiastically voted to extend Superintendent Matthew Haas’ contract through 2027 in an unanimous vote earlier this month.
“One of the most important things that a school board does, and one that is outlined in the Virginia code, is hiring a superintendent,” said Board Vice Chair Kate Acuff. “I take this task seriously and I strongly support extending Dr. Haas’ contract.”
The other Board members expressed similar support and praised Haas’ leadership.
Some community members, however, voiced concerns about the decision, especially the lack of transparency it was made with, on social media, because the deliberation happened in a closed session.
That’s normal, said Phil Giaramita, spokesperson for Albemarle schools. The School Board handles all its contract negotiations in closed session, which is closed to the public. He said the Board also never puts discussions of employment contracts in public meeting agendas, even if they take a vote on the public record.
“When it does happen, it’s very common for the Board to have a closed meeting in which they discuss confidential business,” Giaramita said. “And sometimes, when they come out of a closed meeting, there’s a resolution because they’ve made an agreement.”
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This practice adheres to Virginia Freedom of Information law, according to the nonprofit Virginia Coalition for Open Government. Localities are not required to publish their intention to vote on contracts. They are also allowed to negotiate those contracts behind closed doors. The Board published a closed session notice attached to the public agenda, which noted that the subject was the superintendent’s contract.
ACPS, Giaramita said, has been working on Haas’ contract extension for several months.
Still, the vote left some teachers, parents and community members confused, especially considering a petition calling for Haas’ removal circulated earlier this year, garnering more than 1,600 signatures. Some Albemarle County residents took to X, formerly Twitter, and Facebook to express their doubts about the decision.
Mary McIntyre, an Albemarle literary specialist and member of the Albemarle Education Association, who made an unsuccessful bid in 2017 to represent the Rio District on the Albemarle County School Board, wrote that she’s been hearing people’s questions about why the contract was discussed in closed session.
“The answer is that the school board doesn’t have to have public discussion, or seek teacher/administrator input. They simply don’t want it,” McIntyre wrote on X. “I don’t know how much more clear they can make it — both through their treatment of the AEA and their resistance to any community criticism.”
McIntyre declined to comment further to Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Board members extended Haas’ contract because they are happy with his leadership, Giaramita said. And several of them gave him glowing reviews at the Oct. 12 meeting.
Haas contracted with the nonprofit education firm Bellwether to look into student achievement gaps at ACPS and provide recommendations for how to address them. In June, the firm presented a four-part audit of the gaps in students’ success.
That audit, combined with the release of Standards of Learning exam results in September, Giaramita said, motivated the Board to extend Haas’ contract.
“There’s a position of the Board that at this point — not just with regard to the Bellwether audit and closing the achievement gap and a number of other challenges facing the division — that it was important to have stability in the leadership division,” said Giaramita.
But not everyone agrees.
Less than two months ago, an ACPS parent, Paul McArtor, started a petition calling for Albemarle schools not to extend Haas’ contract. The petition claimed that Haas “is a main contributor to problems,” including a shortage of bus drivers, what the petition says was a flawed process of renaming schools, achievement gaps and overall poor communication with the public.
In September, McArtor, who served on an advisory committee to rename Cale to Mountain View Elementary School in 2019, sent the petition to the Board with 1,644 signatures. It’s unclear how many people who signed the petition have children or relatives attending ACPS because the signatures have not been verified in a formal way. However, nearly 30 people provided additional comments after signing, some of whom specifically mentioned having children or grandchildren in the school district. There are more than 14,000 students in the district.
“A large number of parents have shown that they don’t want an automatic extension for him,” McArtor told Charlottesville Tomorrow. “The contentious School Board election is showing that, yeah, there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the school board.”
Virginia voters don’t directly choose their superintendent; rather, they elect school board members who are in charge of hiring a superintendent. Giaramita said that Albemarle Board members did look at McArtor’s petition, and took its claims into careful consideration, but still decided to extend Haas’ contract.
In the Oct. 12 meeting, Board member Kate Acuff said the petition’s claims were wrong to blame Haas for the problems or the Board’s decisions in the district.
“Dr. Haas has decided that shining a light on the problem is essential to solving it, and I agree,” Acuff praised. “The fact that some in our community have been surprised that the achievement gap exists by this intense focus does not translate into Dr. Haas having caused it, or failed to address it appropriately.”
Board member Rebecca Berlin said that the Board has discussed community members’ concerns about communications, special education, the gaps in students’ performance on state exams and transportation, and considered them when renegotiating Haas’ contract.
Thirty five minutes into the meeting, Haas responded to the board members’ comments.
“My job is a humbling job. I’m not perfect. And I make it a point to learn something new every day. Many days, I don’t have a choice,” he read from a statement at the Oct. 12 meeting. “It’s why I’m so focused on ensuring that our leaders and staff have the resources and support they need to fulfill our mission.”
Charlottesville Tomorrow asked Haas for further comment, but he declined, directing questions about his contract to the Board.
McArtor says that extending his contract “seemed like the easy choice.”
“The least pessimistic reason I can come up with is just laziness,” McArtor said. “The more pessimistic reason [for extending his contract] is the fear that there could be new voices coming onto the School Board that may not be in lockstep with the current thinking.”
Charlottesville Tomorrow reached out to eight community members who critiqued the contract extension on social media or signed McArtor’s petition — only McArtor agreed to speak.
In Virginia, superintendents’ contract renegotiations, including extensions, cannot be done during the period in between the election of a new board member and their first day in office.
Four board seats out of seven are up for election this November. Two of those races, representing Rivanna and Scottsville Districts, are uncontested. The other two, the at-large and White Hall District seats, have candidates with differing views on ACPS leadership.
Katrina Callsen resigned from the School Board on Sept. 14 to focus on her state campaign to represent the 54th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. The School Board conducted interviews for Callsen’s seat, the Rio Magisterial District, at their Oct. 19 public meeting and will make a decision about an appointment by Dec. 14.
Giaramita said that the contract extension was unrelated to upcoming elections. The timing is “coincidental,” he said, and the idea that the contract was extended because of the election is “false and misleading.”
“It’s pretty clear that [the Board] thought he was the right person for the job,” said Giaramita. “Again, it doesn’t mean he’s perfect. Doesn’t mean he hasn’t made a mistake here or there.”
Haas first came to Albemarle County Public Schools as the principal at Albemarle High School from 2004 to 2009, and rose up the ranks within the school system before becoming superintendent in 2018.
In the finalized addendum to Haas’ contract, he will receive a 5% salary increase, from $218,153 to $229,061. The increase went into effect on July 1 of this year.
Haas’ contract was originally set to expire in 2025, but will now end in 2027.