The Howard County Board of Education approved a superintendent-search timeline last night that would leave the position unfilled until February or March, despite directives by state education representatives to hurry the process along.
"We don't feel like it's in the best interests of the school system to rush," board member Joshua Kaufman said in an interview last month.
The timeline and process the board approved last night includes September meetings with the public and community groups to develop a profile of the ideal candidate. Finalists are expected to be chosen as early as February, with a permanent replacement announced by Feb. 14, if all goes well. If there are problems, the process could last through March 28.
In March, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick told the Howard board it had to make a good-faith effort to find a replacement for John R. O'Rourke - whom the board pressured out of the job - by the end of June. But the board said that would not allow time to find a quality candidate.
"We want to structure a search process that will get us started early to attract the best candidates for next year," Kaufman had said. "But for this year, everyone who's interested has been taken, and we have a situation where we have an interim superintendent who is doing everything that we had hoped."
The board had asked Grasmick to extend interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's contract by one year - through June 2005 - but she refused, asking members to continue their search. She said she would reconsider the request if a replacement was not found this month.
Last month, the board hired an Iowa-based search firm, Ray and Associates, to conduct the hunt. The firm's services are expected to cost about $40,000.
During the meeting last night, representatives from the firm and four of the five board members - Courtney Watson, the chairman, was absent - hammered out many of the details, but they got hung up on two issues: the proposed salary and public input, eventually tabling both topics for later discussion.
Gary Ray, president of the search firm, suggested the board limit public input once finalists are announced for the position, claiming the candidates may be made uncomfortable by presentations at large public gatherings, which are also difficult to manage.
"I don't think that there's any doubt that we want input on the front end," Ray said. "It's the back piece that we're talking about." He suggested the board consider focus group meetings instead, attended by members from community and school system organizations, but some board members balked.
"Howard County people believe so much in participating," board member Sandra H. French said, adding later, "There are people who are not going to be in the focus group who are going to say they were excluded."
Salary was another tough topic. Ray said the board needed to advertise the position with a salary of about $275,000 - commensurate with a candidate's experience - which is $75,000 more than O'Rourke was making. "We want to be competitive in the market," he said.
But French bristled, calling the figure too high.
"You don't need these movie-star superintendents with glamorous salaries," said French.