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The most qualified Harford school chief candidate works a mere two blocks away [Commentary]

ElectionsExecutive Branch

Call me befuddled if you wish, but I still don't get the Harford County Board of Education's decision to name an interim superintendent for up to year while the board takes its time to find a permanent replacement for Robert Tomback.

On Monday night, the board made good on its promise, naming Barbara Canavan to the top position for the next school year. Canavan has been the head of the school system's middle school program, serving in a post that was created by the Tomback regime, and before that she was a long-serving principal at Southampton Middle in Bel Air.

Tomback informed the board three and a half months ago he wouldn't be back after his four-year contract expires at the end of this school year. The decision came as a surprise to no one, including the members of the board, some of whom didn't want him back and some who didn't care one way or the other, according to several of my sources.

Whether the board wanted him or not didn't matter anyway, I'm also told, because Tomback had told people he'd had enough. Perhaps it came as no coincidence that everyone on the board that hired Tomback in 2009 is no longer serving except Alysson Krchnavy. Plus, the current board has elected members — with more coming – and is larger by two members than when Tomback started, thanks to the hybrid legislation Harford County's state lawmakers, in their not so infinite wisdom, passed after Tomback came on board.

The whole situation with the make-up of the board, coupled with Tomback's aloof public persona (we'll skip commentary here about his leadership style), pretty much made Tomback's own position going forward untenable, regardless of which opinions you care to believe about his handling of the school system.

Yet, I still don't get the wait in finding the person who's going to guide the Harford school system into the future. We've been told by board leaders they did not want to rush or to be placed into a position of reliance on consultants in screening candidates, a trap some people think the last board, the one that hired Tomback, let itself fall into by relying too much on the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or MABE, to act as its de facto headhunter.

There has also been a school of thought – pun intended – that the interim superintendent ploy gives the board the opportunity to try out the person deemed the most qualified internal candidate for a year to see if there is a good fit. But if that's the case, then why wouldn't they just go ahead and give the job to Canavan and move forward?

Since I'm almost three years older than Canavan, who is 62, I'm not going to get into the age thing here. I still intend to do my job for a few more years, and I would expect she plans to do the same. She told my colleague David Anderson last week that she applied for the interim superintendent post – as did many others inside and outside the school system according to the board president – and was "thrilled" to have been chosen.

What Canavan wouldn't say is if she plans to apply for the job permanently. Maybe she wants to see what it's like at the top, but my suspicion is the board didn't pick someone who's already a pretty well-known quantity with the idea she needs a one-year tryout. Much more likely, I think, is that they've adopted the holding pattern mode while they take 10 months or so to find the next superintendent.

I might be a little more tolerant of the board's reluctance to move forward if the members had the presence of mind to bide their time in hopes of convincing the person who is clearly most qualified to run our school system to move his office two blocks north and become superintendent. (This, by the way, is no knock on Canavan, who in reality may indeed be the second most qualified candidate.)

There's never been any question in my mind that Harford County Executive David Craig should be the next school superintendent, even though Craig himself dismisses any such talk.

Let's face it, nobody understands the school system better than Craig, who served more than 30 years as a teacher and assistant principal, including a stint under Canavan at Southampton Middle. And, nobody knows the ins and outs of the politics of education in Harford County and Maryland, than Craig, who in addition to being about to become longest serving county executive in Harford history, has been a state senator, delegate and municipal official – both mayor and city councilman in Havre de Grace.

Craig, who turns 64 in June and whose final term as county executive won't end for another 18 months, has cited all kinds of reasons why he isn't interested in the running the school system, including that he doesn't want an appointed job versus and elected one and he's "technically" not qualified because he doesn't have a PhD. in education and isn't interested in going back to school to get one, which he would be allowed to do while serving as superintendent.

And, besides, Craig still wants to be Maryland's next governor and intends to announce his candidacy next month for the Republican nomination. Unlike some, I don't take his foray into the governor's race lightly. Not only do I think the battle for the nomination will a wide open affair in both parties, but if Craig were to somehow emerge with his party's nomination next June, I think the current Democratic governor and Democratic legislation have built up enough animus among voters of all stripes, that whomever the GOP selects will have a decent shot of winning in November 2014.

His chances of becoming governor notwithstanding, I haven't changed my view that David Craig would make a darn good school superintendent, somebody who will put the education of the children first, while expertly and judiciously negotiating the education system's bureaucratic and political minefields to improve learning opportunities in all our county's schools.

Craig could do far more good and accomplish more by spending four years in the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air than he could spending four years running the state. At this juncture, he still has about nine or 10 months left to come around to my way of thinking.

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