School board asks to extend Cousin's pact

Interim superintendent would stay a year longer

`Staff morale has increased'

National search has begun for O'Rourke successor

Howard County

March 24, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education has asked for state permission to extend interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's four-month contract by one year - through June 30, 2005 - while members continue a national search to fill the job on a permanent basis.

"Staff morale has increased in the three weeks he's been here, and the climate has improved in the school system," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, who announced the extension request yesterday. "We would like to continue that over the next 15 months."

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, whose approval is required, is expected to rule on the matter by April 1.

Cousin, 58, took the job this month, agreeing to finish the four months left on former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's contract. O'Rourke stepped down last month under pressure from the board, which elected not to renew his four-year contract and paid him the remainder - about $100,000 - as incentive to leave early.

Members had planned to name a new superintendent to a four-year term by the time Cousin's temporary agreement, worth $58,333, concluded June 30. But they realized more time was needed.

"The best people who are either searching for jobs or willing to relocate have already done so," said board member Joshua Kaufman, who hopes the candidate pool - which could include Cousin, if he chooses - will widen.

At its meeting last night, the board voted to retain an Iowa firm - Ray and Associates - to conduct the search, which will cost about $40,000.

Steadying influence

Board members said keeping Cousin longer should also help steady a school system that has been rocked by recent scandals, including alleged grade-changing schemes at two high schools.

"No one has the unique set of characteristics that can [better] fill the job for 15 months than Dr. Cousin," Watson said, pointing to Cousin's intimate knowledge of the system and staff, and the respect he has earned from the community.

Cousin left an associate superintendent job he had recently taken in the District of Columbia school system to return to Howard County, where he spent 16 years, first as director of school construction, then associate superintendent in charge of finance and finally deputy superintendent and chief operating officer. He retired last year.

"We think he can really rally the staff members to move forward and reach our goals," Watson said.

Cousin has goals of his own - better organization within the system, improved budgeting techniques, more effective allocation of staff - that he would like to attain.

"There are some things that can't be done in four months," he said.

Contract offer

Details of the proposed year-long contract have not been made final, board members said, but the offer they have on the table is similar to O'Rourke's contract, which included a salary of $197,300. Cousin is not sold on that figure, however, and is considering a counter figure - in part because he likely wouldlose his $60,000 pension for that year.

"I don't want to come up short," he said.

The school board had budgeted $250,000 as a possible salary for a new superintendent if one could be hired by July.

Cousin said he will take the next 15 months to consider whether he wants the permanent job.

"It will give me the opportunity to see if I can really bring strong leadership to the school system," he said.

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