Search begins for Marchione successor

Balto. County seeks to hire schools chief by early next year

August 21, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

On the day that Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione announced he would retire next summer, county school board members set an ambitious goal to begin a nationwide search and hire a new education chief by early next year.

"We have to have this whole process done by no later than February," board President Donald L. Arnold said yesterday. That way, Marchione's successor can finish in another system "and still have some time for coordination meetings with [Marchione]," Arnold added.

In emotional remarks at a meeting of principals and administrators yesterday, Marchione said he would step down as head of Baltimore County's 106,550-student school system, the nation's 25th largest.

"There, now it's official," he said, putting an end to speculation about his future.

During his speech, Marchione reflected on his nearly 45 years in county schools -- first as a math teacher and later as the system's top administrator.

But his memories weren't all sweet. Recalling an era of racial segregation in the school system, Marchione gave a terse warning.

"While we must learn from the past, we must avoid the temptation to romanticize it," he said. "The truth is, the old ways, when examined closely, didn't always work."

Baltimore County joins other major school systems around the state that recently have seen turnover at the top of their administrations.

In June, Montgomery and Prince George's counties hired new superintendents. Howard County recently launched a superintendent search, a process that could vie with Baltimore County's for qualified candidates.

"I'd be surprised if we weren't competing for the same people," said Baltimore County school board member John A. Hayden, who predicted that salary and benefits could play major roles in securing a contract with the most qualified candidate.

Last month, Montgomery County school board members approved a superintendent's contract worth nearly $300,000, including a base salary of $237,000. In Baltimore County, the superintendent's annual salary is $128,750.

School board members could be forced to increase that amount if they want to attract a top-notch professional, said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of the nation's largest urban public school systems. He said that "$128,000 for a school district that size is pretty low."

Bids from headhunter firms

Board members, who could outline a superintendent-search process at a retreat this weekend, have received several bids from headhunter firms. County officials have set aside $50,000 to pay for the search, but that sum could increase. "It's something we have to do, and if we have to visit a site in California, it could cost more," Arnold said.

In his remarks yesterday, Marchione vowed that he would not coast through his final year.

"My plan is to continue to have high expectations for me and for all of you," he said. "There is so much to do. We cannot afford a single moment wasted waiting for any new order."

With that, the crowd of about 700 educators rose, clapping loudly. Responding to the standing ovation, Marchione walked to the edge of Loch Raven High School's auditorium stage and bowed.

At her seat in the front of the hall, Marchione's wife, Mary Jacqe Marchione, a top administrator, wiped tears from her eyes. After her husband's speech, she greeted him with a hug.

"What a wonderful thing in this day and age to have spent an entire career serving this community and its children," said school board vice president Phyllis E. Ettinger, referring to Marchione. "It will be hard to run the system without him."

In retirement, Marchione plans to study Italian, his parents' native language, said his wife, who will continue working for the school system. "He wants to be fluent," she said.

Finding someone to replace Marchione could consume much of the board's time during the school year. Typically, the process takes about six months, Casserly said, adding that the cost of such a search can run up to $100,000.

"The good thing about what Baltimore County faces is that there's not a whole lot of major school districts that are looking at the same time," he said. "The number of places competing against them is pretty small, at least for the moment."

Shallow pool of candidates

Still, the nationwide pool of superintendent candidates is shallow, partly because of the political nature of the job, which can pit superintendents against community leaders and parents.

"The job has lost some of its luster," said Jay Goldman, editor of School Administrator, a magazine published by the American Association of School Administrators. "It is considered one of the hottest kitchens in public office these days. The challenges are tremendous, and for one person to be ultimately responsible for the issues public schools face today isn't realistic."

Board members say the ideal candidate will be business-minded, organized and confident.

"What I want to look for is someone who is charismatic and who is able to pretty quickly win the confidence of parents, teachers and local and state officials," Hayden said. "I want to see someone spend some time studying our system; someone who can give us examples of course correction before we make them an offer."

It is unclear if someone from the system will seek the superintendent's job. A number of top education administrators recently left for jobs in other states. Deputy superintendent Elfreda W. Massie, who withdrew her name from consideration for the Montgomery County superintendent's post when her personal bankruptcy became public, remains undecided.

"It's too early to know," she said yesterday. "I've got to decide how I can best serve the students."

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