Hiring a superintendent to run a public school system that serves nearly 40,000 students is a daunting task, so it is understandable that the Harford County Board of Education is moving with a great deal of caution.
Laid bare, the problem is simple. Harford County Public Schools is a $600 million a year enterprise with as many employees as a major corporation. Though a school system and a business cannot be run the same way on all fronts, there are certain parallels, not the least of which being that the pool of qualified applicants is relatively small, and, on the whole, they're very well paid.
Annual salaries for superintendents have long since exceeded the six figure range, and there are other benefits, notably access to what in business would be a company car, complete with fuel and maintenance being covered. There's also the matter of the contract. School system heads aren't eligible for corporate golden parachutes when they are forced out, but Harford County learned the hard way the only way to get superintendents to leave before their four-year contracts are up is to pay up on the full four years. At $190,000 a year, the salary of the current superintendent, the cost of cutting losses early is very high.
The plan the school board is pursuing to replace Superintendent Robert Tomback, whose four-year contract expires in June, is to hire an interim superintendent for a year while a candidate for a four-year contract is pursued at a more leisurely pace.
There's some merit in this idea, if only because the plan makes the interim superintendent eligible to be hired on a more permanent basis (or be cut loose at the end of a one-year trial period).
Being superintendent is among the most important leadership jobs in local government, but it is hardly a cookie cutter position. Someone who is good for one community might be a weak choice for another. Paper qualifications are important, but an on-the-job trial period is an idea that has a lot of merit. And considering the compensation packages offered to superintendents, permanent or interim, it's a decent deal for the applicants as well.