Harford school superintendent to leave in June

Harford County School Superintendent Robert Tomback told school employees Monday he will leave his post when his contract expires in June, "to pursue other opportunities."

Tomback, who was hired in mid-2009, had until Friday to notify the board of education if he would be a candidate for reappointment to a new term.

School officials had been tight-lipped about Tomback's future in recent weeks, but shortly after noon on Monday, the school system sent out an announcement that Tomback would end his tenure this summer.

According to the school system, Tomback e-mailed the following statement to all HCPS employees Monday:

"I write to you today to express my appreciation for your extraordinary work on behalf of our students, their families, and our community. Through our collective efforts, the Harford County Public Schools is a high performing school district — both by state and national measures. More of our students are performing at higher levels of achievement than ever before, and the school system's trajectory continues in an upward direction. Despite a very lean central office and operations staff, support to schools is provided in order to maximize student achievement as we focus our resources on the classroom.

"The Harford County Public School system is well positioned to face the myriad challenges presented by our funding, the transition to Common Core State Standards, the implementation of a new teacher and principal evaluation system, and more. The core of our school system is solid; we are poised to meet the many challenges that lie ahead.

"The favorable conditions that prevail in the Harford County Public Schools, coupled with the bright future that lies ahead, make this an opportune time for the next superintendent to be selected to lead this school system. At the close of this school year I will go forward to pursue other opportunities. It is with enormous gratitude that I thank you for the opportunity to work with you and for the students of Harford County."

Tomback began his term as superintendent on July 1, 2009, replacing Interim Superintendent Patricia L. Skebeck. She was serving the rest of the term of Jacqueline Haas, who died suddenly in late 2008.

Tomback was among four finalists the school board considered for the position of superintendent. Before taking the Harford job, he was an area deputy superintendent in the Baltimore County school system.

Tomback's salary is $190,000 a year. Under his contract, he was eligible for bonuses of up to 10 percent annually at the school board's discretion during years in which the school system's employees received pay raises. There were no raises during most of his tenure, however, and last year when school employees received a 1 percent cost-of-living increase, there was no bonus paid "due to economic conditions," a school system spokesperson said last week.

"On behalf of the Board of Education of Harford County, I would like to wish Dr. Tomback well on all of his future endeavors," said the board's president, Rick Grambo. "We would also like to thank him for his four years of service to the students and staff of Harford County."

The Board of Education will establish a timeline and action plan for hiring a new superintendent.

Elected board member Robert Frisch, who represents the Joppa and Edgewood areas, gave some details on the search Monday during a meeting of the Joppa-Joppatowne Community Council.

"The board is not going to be rushed," he said. "We are going to take our time and we are going to do it right."

Frisch said a new superintendent must be in place by July 1, according to law – an interim superintendent can be appointed if a permanent superintendent is not hired by that date.

He said the board has several options when searching for a new schools chief. Board members can hire an outside firm to conduct the search, as has been done in Baltimore and Howard counties; they can do the search themselves, or pursue a "hybrid" option, in which a private firm takes on some duties and the school board takes on others.

"I would say there are some good things the superintendent has done with the school system and I recognize that here are some major hurdles that he has had to deal with in his tenure here," Frisch said of Tomback.

Frisch praised the superintendent for the growth of magnet programs during his tenure, such as the International Baccalaureate, agricultural, biomedical programs at the high school level.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, which represents local teachers and other support staffers, said the union had been able to make "a fair solution and compromise" with school officials regarding the school system's teacher evaluation model during Tomback's tenure, but the process of evaluation, observation and plans of assistance needed to be more "clear, fair and transparent."

"It's not so much the model that's the problem," Burbey explained. "It's the school-to-school differences in how teachers are observed and how plans of assistance are implemented or initiated."

The model will take effect July 1.

"We wish Superintendent Tomback well in his future endeavors," Burbey said. "We haven't always agreed on what has taken place in the school system during his tenure, but I don't know that we'll always agree with any superintendent."

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this article.

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