Citizens ask for details of schools chief replacement

Education board vice president says superintendent selection process could be a long one

October 16, 2005|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

It takes a long time to replace a superintendent, school board Vice President Tricia Johnson said at the last meeting of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

Johnson was responding to a request by the chairman of the county citizens advisory council that the board inform the public of what it plans to do and of the timetable to replace departing Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who announced in August that he is leaving next month for an unpaid position at Harvard University.

Though Johnson's answer and the replies of other board members may not have satisfied some residents and parents, the process does tend to take several months, according to those who conduct such searches.

But the board has been moving ahead, according to Johnson, who said in an interview last week that she expects the board to announce its choice of interim superintendent very soon. She also expects the board to announce how it will proceed with a search for a permanent replacement for Smith.

At a meeting in September, the board heard a presentation from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education on what a search might look like.

Carl W. Smith, executive director of MABE, said that in superintendent searches around the state, the public often is involved early on in helping to decide what characteristics a new superintendent should possess. Speaking in general terms about such searches, and not about Anne Arundel County in particular, Smith offered a typical timeline based on other searches he has been involved in.

The first step, he said, would be in October and November, when the board would decide what criteria, qualifications and experience it is looking for in a superintendent.

"Out of that process, normally there'd be community involvement, focus groups, an opportunity for citizens and staff to give input to the board," Smith said.

The next step would occur in December and January, Smith said, when the board, with the help of a consultant or a professional search firm, would advertise the position and recruit applicants. It would be the search firm's responsibility to accept applications and cull them for the most qualified, as well as to conduct background checks.

In February, a board typically would begin interviewing candidates, Smith said. By April, the pool might be down to three or four finalists who would be granted second interviews.

Second interviews, Smith said, "would normally include the candidates coming to the community and meeting the staff and having a chance to see the school system first-hand."

By June, the board should be able to select a new superintendent, negotiate a contract and make the appointment, Smith said. A new superintendent would have to begin the job by July 1, according to Johnson.

Despite public input early on, Smith said, searches are usually confidential, in part to protect the applicants, who may already be working as superintendents elsewhere. Generally, the names of the three or four finalists are what will be made public, around April, he said.

"By then confidentiality is not an issue, and it's a public vetting," Smith said.

But before any of that begins, the board will have to decide whether to hire a professional search firm or whether to contract with an organization like MABE, which offers consulting on superintendent searches for a fee to member organizations. A search firm could charge the district as much as $50,000 to $75,000, according to Smith. And although he said that MABE would charge significantly less, he would not disclose an amount, saying it would be subject to negotiation, should the Anne Arundel County board decide to hire MABE.

Johnson said that she is leaning toward contracting with MABE for the search, adding that she has heard positive reviews from other school systems that have gone that route.

Sam Georgiou, chairman of the county citizens' advisory committee, said that he doesn't want the public to be in the dark during the process, no matter how the board proceeds.

"I think the public would like to know what the formal process is comprised of, what criteria they will use, a timeline for the entire process and how they will involve the stakeholders," Georgiou said.

That information should come soon, Johnson said, adding that the board is planning a series of public hearings.

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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