Injecting an added element of uncertainty into the Howard County school board race, Stephen C. Bounds said yesterday that even if re-elected this year, he would be willing to leave mid-term to take the right superintendent's job.
Bounds, who is finishing the final year of his first six-year term, was named Monday a semi-finalist for superintendent of the Lansing school district in Lansing, Mich., an 18,000-student system.
The 44-year-old Woodbine attorney will learn later in the month if he gets the job. But even if he isn't selected, Bounds -- who has applications out for jobs other than Lansing -- said he would continue to look for a job as superintendent of schools.
"I'm not running [for school board] with the intention of leaving, but the possibility that I might leave does exist," he said.
His comments came a week before Tuesday's school board primary, in which he is one of 17 candidates campaigning for two seats on the board, and the only incumbent. The top four vote-getters will advance to the November general election.
If Bounds were re-elected and left mid-term, the county executive would appoint a successor -- a potential issue in a county that recently has debated the merits of appointed school board members.
Yesterday, several school board candidates said they were surprised by news that Bounds was applying for school chief jobs, though they wished him well.
Allen Dyer, one of the few candidates who has taken jabs at Bounds, said that while he believes the incumbent would make a "great" superintendent, Bounds should have disclosed earlier that he was considering the career change.
But Dyer, a Glenelg computer consultant, said he is happy it became public before the primary, and he said the news should help the other candidates.
"The timing of this does benefit those that are not incumbents because it gets the public to take a second look, and that's good," he said. "We have great candidates."
Michele Williams, a candidate from Columbia, said, "If his passion is education, as he said, then of course he'd want to take it to the next level."
Donald F. Norris, a policy sciences professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a Columbia resident who has followed the race, said Bounds' revelation could gain and cost him votes.
"It clearly says he's got an interest in education," Norris said. "On the other hand, if he's applying for jobs out of the area, maybe it suggests that his interest in education in the area is not as strong as it could be."
School officials said yesterday that they are supportive of Bounds' plans.
School board Vice Chairman Jane B. Schuchardt said she hopes that people who planned to vote for Bounds won't change their minds. She -- along with Chairman Sandra H. French -- praised his performance as a board member.
Patti Caplan, the school system's spokeswoman, said she believes that Bounds' experience outweighs the potential that he might leave mid-term if re-elected.
"If we can have one year of Steve or two years of Steve, that's worth it," Caplan said. "We'll take him for as long as we can get it."
A departure by Bounds mid-term would leave the county executive with the responsibility of naming a successor. Bounds said he has talked to County Executive James N. Robey about that possibility.
The last time there was such an appointment was in the mid-1970s, when a school board member was transferred to a job in Detroit, said Charles I. Ecker, a former county executive.
Recent controversy over the makeup of the school board included a debate on whether some members should be appointed rather than elected. One state legislator from Howard County proposed that idea last month, but it was tabled. About half of the school board candidates have said they oppose appointment.
Bounds said he has been thinking about this career change for about a year and a half, after one of the county's school administrators told him he would make a good superintendent. He said he first applied for such jobs last fall and has "several applications pending." All the positions would would start July 1.
In Lansing, school officials will interview superintendent candidates Monday, Tuesday and March 8 and plan to make a decision by the end of the month.
If he is not offered any of the jobs for which he has applied, Bounds said, he does not plan to apply for any next year because his eldest child -- now a sophomore -- would be close to completing high school.
He said it is likely he could finish a second board term before finding the right opportunity. He said his "complete commitment" is in Howard County.
"My heart is here," he said. "I don't have one foot in another place."
Still, he's sensitive to the effect word of his job applications could have on how he is viewed as a candidate.
"It depends on how people look at it," he said. "On the one hand, it demonstrates my commitment to public education -- I am committed to it enough that I'm considering a career change to do it on a full-time basis.
"Another way of looking at it is if the people of Lansing, Mich., consider me good enough to be a superintendent candidate, I'm good enough to be a school board member in Howard County."