Some school superintendent candidates have asked about board controversy

Some prospective candidates for the Howard County superintendent's job have asked about the school board's efforts to have a member removed, according to the head of the firm helping with the search.

But Gary Ray, president of Iowa-based Ray and Associates, said the board's attempts to oust Allen Dyer have not dampened interest in the position.

Ray added in an interview Thursday that the sagging economy has reduced the number of candidates across the country who are willing to leave their positions for superintendent vacancies.

He said those who have expressed interest in the job include former Maryland residents who are interested in returning to the state.

The search was launched late last year after Sydney Cousin, who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, announced he would step down at the end of this school year. He has served as superintendent since 2004 and has worked for the school system for more than two decades.

Ray declined to say how many people have applied for the position; the application deadline is Feb. 22. "After that, we are going to do our investigation, interviewing candidates, screening those candidates down and presenting the information to the board on March 6," he said.

School board members adopted a resolution last year asking the Maryland State Board of Education to remove Dyer, who has been accused of breaching confidentiality requirements, among other allegations. The matter has been sent to an administrative law judge. Dyer is running for re-election this year.

Ray said it is not unusual for candidates to ask about such a matter.

"In any job that I have, they always ask about the board, how does the board work together," said Ray. "They ask [whether there] are there any issues with board members. That's a natural question because if you are applying for the job, you would probably say, 'Tell me about the person I'm going to work for.'

"They've asked us about some of the challenges and some of the issues," Ray said. "They've done their homework much more so than they used to, because candidates can go on the Internet and look into the board meetings and minutes and to newsprint."

Ray added that he doesn't believe the Dyer issue will keep prospective candidates from applying. "Your top candidates obviously want to be aware of those type of issues," he said. "We've answered that question, and it may raise an eyebrow or two with a candidate.

"But generally, strong candidates are not going to run from that," Ray said. "Your community is still going to be your community. … The school system is still the school system."

Ray said that his firm will be attending the American Association of School Administrators' National Conference on Education in Houston from Feb. 16 to Feb. 19 to recruit candidates. "We do that regularly," said Ray. "We've already lined up some conversations with folks that might be interested in the job."

Ray said the selection process is running on the school board-approved timeline. Next month, his firm will develop and finalize interview questions and procedures with the board, and then semifinal candidates will be presented to the board. The first and second rounds of interviews are also scheduled.

Ray said that by the end of March or beginning of April, the board "will at least know who they want to hire."

The Howard superintendent position is among a dozen posted on the Ray and Associates website, which lists vacancies from school systems including Norfolk, Va., and Santa Clara County, Calif.

The Howard school system is widely regarded as among the best in the nation; last year it met state annual goals and posted graduation rates above the state average.

The superintendent position lists compensation in "the range of $275,000 with a comprehensive benefits package." Cousin's salary is $265,000. The job description calls for a person who, among other things, possesses the ability to "enhance student performance, especially in identifying and closing or narrowing the gaps in student achievement."

"People think that's just a little window dressing, but it's not. The board really spent some time on looking at characteristics and traits," said Ray. "They really took the information from the community and embraced it. Not all the time boards will do that. This particular board certified what the community was saying."

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