Superintendent renews contract

June 13, 2008|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,SUN REPORTER

Sydney L. Cousin was contemplating retiring for a second time during the Christmas holiday.

At 62, the superintendent of the highly touted Howard County public schools system said he wanted to pursue new ventures, including the fulfillment of his childhood dream of being a university librarian. He longed to spend more time with his wife of 17 years, Marion, his four children, and four grandsons.

A desire to eliminate the achievement gap among minority students combined with a slew of community members begging him to remain in the position persuaded Cousin to express interest in extending his contract with the school system. After a near five-month negotiation process with the Board of Education, Cousin signed a four-year contract extension yesterday that makes him "competitive" with the majority of the superintendents in Maryland.

Cousin will be paid a base salary of $265,000 annually, compared with $231,000 in his current contract. The contract also includes a cost of living increase, payment into a retirement plan and a $700-a-month car allowance, according to school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. The contract goes into effect July 1.

"I'm satisfied with the process," Cousin said from his office Wednesday afternoon, two days before the end of the school year. "There is some unfinished business to be dealt with here."

Board members said they are glad that Cousin's tenure with the school system is continuing.

"I feel comfortable with the contract," said board Vice Chairman Ellen Flynn Giles. "I'm delighted we can continue with the path he started."

Former board chairman and current member Diane Mikulis echoed those sentiments.

"We're excited to have Sydney at the helm for another four years," Mikulis said.

Most of the negotiations were among Cousin, Giles and board chairman Frank Aquino. Board attorney Mark Blom attended several of the meetings.

"It was amenable," Cousin said. "There are not that many dramatic changes from the current contract."

Cousin was lured out of retirement in March 2004. At that time, the school system was dealing with grade-changing scandals at Oakland Mills and Centennial high schools, rape allegations at Mount Hebron High and a messy split between then-Superintendent John R. O'Rourke and the school board.

Cousin was well-known to the school board, having retired as deputy superintendent in 2003 after serving in the system for 16 years.

Cousin immediately came to the school system and instituted a level of calm and comfort. He was rewarded with the title of permanent superintendent in July 2004.

After a relatively smooth transition during his first year as head of the school system, Cousin experienced a challenging 2006-2007 school year. He battled a chronic back problem caused by a car accident in October 2006, and dealt with the arrests last school year of four teachers, three on charges of having sexual contact with students.

Cousin later said the adversity had nothing to do with him contemplating a second retirement from the school system.

After his newest contract expires in 2012, Cousin said he will retire.

"I will be 66. I have no intentions at this time to work beyond that," he said. "One thing that this job does is pulls you away from your family. I have four grandsons that I want to spend time with."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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