School board signs four-year contract with superintendent

Cousin's salary is similar to former chief's income

July 02, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's new school superintendent will be paid $199,000 a year, plus a $575 monthly car allowance, under the four-year contract signed yesterday - roughly equal to what former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke was making.

But Sydney L. Cousin's salary represents a sacrifice, too - the loss of the pension he was receiving while he works. And under state pension rules, his pension benefit will not grow because of his new job and higher salary, he said.

"I knew that in signing this four-year contract, I would have to do that," Cousin said of the pension.

Despite that, Cousin said, "it's not about the money. I think I have a strong affinity for the school system - to put it back on the right track and calm the waters here. I'm at home."

The school board did agree to contribute to a 403b retirement investment fund used by nonprofit groups and a 457b government workers retirement plan, according to the contract.

"I think it's a very fair contract for the citizens of Howard County, in line with other counties," said school board Chairman Courtney Watson, who signed the contract for the panel.

Watson said some area superintendents make more and have more generous benefits, and Cousin's pension loss is "a pretty significant amount of money."

County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, also approved.

"I'm certainly pleased they didn't go out of the range of the last superintendent," he said.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, said Cousin's compensation "seems realistic to me," given the size of the school system and the demands of the job.

O'Rourke resigned after the board told him in January that members did not plan to renew his contract.

Before settling on Cousin, 58, for the job, school board members were prepared to spend $40,000 on an executive search, and Gary Ray, president of the Iowa-based firm they approached, recommended advertising a $275,000 salary.

Cousin, who spent 16 years in Howard's school system before retiring for a year and then returning, is making more than the $129,125 annual salary of County Executive James N. Robey but less than some regional school officials.

Joe A. Hairston, superintendent of Baltimore County's 100,000 students, is paid $230,000 a year starting yesterday, a $45,000 increase. And Eric J. Smith, who presides over Anne Arundel County's 75,000 students, is paid $202,949, plus retirement contributions.

But school leaders in Frederick and Harford counties, which each have 40,000-student enrollments, compared to Howard's 48,000, get $157,000 and $140,000 respectively.

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