Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said Thursday that he does not plan to seek another contract when his current four-year deal expires in June.
"I have always said that I would not seek another term," Hairston wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun. "Twelve years is a tremendous run for any superintendent."
School board President Lawrence Schmidt said Hairston has not informed the board of his decision. "Dr. Hairston has not called me," he said. Schmidt said Hairston may have sent a letter to the board that he has not yet received, because the board is at a conference in Ocean City and Hairston is in Portland, Ore.
The school board will begin the process of finding a new superintendent immediately. Schmidt said he will appoint a subcommittee of the board to outline the steps it will take in its search, including such details as the cost of hiring a search firm. The subcommittee will report back in 30 days, he said.
Schmidt would not say whether the board offered Hairston another contract, calling it a personnel issue.
In the past two years, Hairston has come under criticism from some parents, lawmakers and teachers over what they perceive as a lack of transparency and responsiveness.
Although county school employees have been speculating for months about when Hairston might announce a decision about an extension, the news that his tenure would end in June was not unexpected. Hairston told The Baltimore Sun last year that he was unlikely to seek another term.
But his imminent departure leaves a prominent void looming atop one of Maryland's largest school systems, and it means Hairston will finish out the school year as a lame-duck superintendent, without the imprimatur of incumbency.
The search to replace him comes at a time of great turnover in Maryland's education leadership. Nearly half of the superintendencies in the state have recently turned over or will soon. Searches are being conducted for school superintendents for the state and for Howard County.
"I have not received any formal or informal notification," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said of Hairston. "For an individual who has such an emotional and professional investment in the school system, I suspect it is a very difficult time."
Kamenetz said if Hairston chooses to move on, he can do so "knowing his accomplishments are spectacular." He said he would expect the school board to do a national search that "will include the views of teachers, parents and the public as a whole."
Hairston made his comments in response to an email from The Sun asking about his plans. He did not respond to subsequent emails seeking more details.
Under Maryland law, superintendents must notify their boards by Feb. 1 whether they intend to seek another term. However, superintendent searches can take many months, so the earlier Hairston made an announcement, the longer the board would have to find a replacement.
Schmidt said he was grateful that Hairston didn't wait until February but spoke up at this time so that the school board would have time "to do a complete search."
"I think the board appreciates his service. He is leaving BCPS a better place than when he found it 12 years ago," Schmidt said.
School board member George Moniodis said: "I enjoyed him. I admired him."
Hairston, who makes $307,000 a year, will have served three terms, an exceedingly long tenure for most superintendents around the nation. He has been superintendent for an entire generation of students: Hairston entered the system when today's seniors were in kindergarten. But sources within the school system said that while he still had some support on the board, other members believed it was time for a change.
Hairston is viewed by many teachers and administrators as a complex figure who has provided a steady hand but doesn't take criticism well.