The Baltimore County school board, which has been criticized in the past two years for failing to listen to complaints from the public, has pledged to seek advice on the hiring of the next superintendent from an array of interests in the community.
The school board signed a contract this week with a national search firm to help choose a new superintendent. School board President Lawrence Schmidt said Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates was chosen in part because it has a good record of soliciting views from different groups. "They are very good with public input," Schmidt said.
Superintendent Joe A. Hairston is leaving June 30 after 12 years in the job.
Hazard, Young, Attea conducted searches for Baltimore City, as well as Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Montgomery and Fairfax, Va., counties, and is also helping in the process to find a new state superintendent in Maryland.
In Montgomery County, the consultant put together small focus groups that included representatives from higher education, nonprofits, business and the religious community, in addition to seeking views of teachers, parents and legislators.
Montgomery County school board President Christopher S. Barclay said the firm also held public forums and had a survey on its website, asking the public what it wanted in the next superintendent and what it liked and disliked about the current school system.
Montgomery County allowed a small group of representatives from the community to interview the final three candidates and advise the school board on its final decision. However, Barclay said, they did not have a vote.
The final steps of the Montgomery search were kept secret, Barclay said, because the candidates did not want their employers to know they were looking for other jobs.
Schmidt said Baltimore County could make the names of the finalists public, but no decision has been made.
Baltimore County's school board will meet Dec. 14 with representatives from the search firm to outline the process, but Schmidt said he would expect candidates for the job to apply during the winter and the board to interview finalists by April. He said he hopes the board would sign a contract with a new superintendent by mid-May.
While not seen as a major urban school system, Baltimore County is expected to attract candidates who may be looking for the diversity and some of the challenges of an urban system, according to Alan Leis, who will lead the search at Hazard, Young, Attea. In the past decade, the county system's minority enrollment has gone from 38 percent to 54 percent, and the percentage of students who qualify for a federally subsidized meal based on income has risen from 27 percent to 43 percent.
The contract with Hazard, Young, Attea will pay the firm $32,500 for the search; however, the board has budgeted up to $60,000 to cover transportation and other costs associated with bringing candidates to the region. Schmidt said the board is transferring money within the current year's budget to cover the cost of the search.