Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey will be interviewed for a job in suburban Seattle tomorrow, a development that has caught school board members by surprise -- and left them wondering whether they'll have a superintendent in the spring.
The situation is tentative, with Hickey saying he is unsure whether he'll get or accept a superintendent's job in Washington. County school officials say that they expect a commitment from Hickey on their recent offer to renew his contract.
Despite being "a little hurt" by Hickey's failure to inform her of another job prospect, "we still want him to stay, although we need a commitment by March 1," said Board of Education chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig.
"We're happy with him and were hoping he would commit another four years," said Kendig. "I think it would be fair if a boardwere notified of a possible change. We weren't expecting this at all."
Last summer, after a formal vote, the school board announced its intention to reappoint Hickey to the position, which pays $99,106 annually. The board must vote by March 1 to confirm his appointment, Kendig said.
Hickey, who has served as superintendent since 1984, is one of six finalists for a superintendent's post in the 23,360-pupil Kent school district. He grew up in that area, and three of his four sons live there now.
"It's really a mutual checking-out at this point," Hickey said. "I'm not even sure I want it. I'm very satisfiedhere, but I do want to explore this as an option."
Other factors that could affect his decision, Hickey said, are the possibility thathe may not be awarded a pay raise this year and the fact that the recession has not hit the Pacific Coast as hard as Maryland.
"I think it's a very nice area, and I have family there," said Hickey. He vacations in the area for three weeks every summer.
Hickey said the Kent school board isn't expected to name its choice until March 25, more than three weeks after the Howard school board has to formally announce its decision to reappoint him. The current Kent superintendentis paid $115,000 a year.
Dana F. Hanna, vice chairman of the Howard school board, said that although the news of Hickey's interview has "come out of the blue," the board plans to reappoint him even if hedoes not provide a commitment before the March 1 deadline.
If Hickey chooses to leave his job after his reappointment, he has the legal right to do so, Hanna said. School officials estimate that a new superintendent search would take about 200 hours.
Hickey, 53, grew up in Walla Walla, Wash., and once served as an associate superintendent in Seattle. He was referred to the Kent job by a consultant involved in the search.
"I don't think I'd have to have a 'forget them and love us' kind of decision," Hanna said. "This sounds like an opportunity that intrigued him and he's checking it out. I don't hold thatagainst him."
County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who formerly worked under Hickey as deputy school superintendent, said he also didn'texpect the news.
"He gave an indication not that long ago that he'd stay another four years, so this is definitely a surprise," Ecker said.
If the school board were forced to hire a new superintendent, it would probably be about six months before he or she would start the job, Ecker said.
The Kent school district, whose superintendent has announced plans to retire July 1, is smaller than the Howard school system by 7,000 students, but it is similar to Howard County in that both areas are affluent suburbs that take keen interest in theirschools.