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Harford school board plans to have new superintendent by July 1

Joe Voskuhl, president of the Harford County Board of Education, says a Feb. 5 meeting will set the parameters for the search for a replacement for the retiring Barbara Canavan, left.
Joe Voskuhl, president of the Harford County Board of Education, says a Feb. 5 meeting will set the parameters for the search for a replacement for the retiring Barbara Canavan, left. (MATT BUTTON/THE AEGIS file)

The Harford County Board of Education's timeline for its search for a successor to Superintendent Barbara Canavan, its criteria for applicants and other details of the process will be worked out when the nine-member board meets Feb. 5 with its consultants from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or MABE, according to the school board president.

The school board plans to have a full-time superintendent in place by July 1, President Joseph Voskuhl said Monday. Canavan plans to retire June 30, ending a 45-year career with Harford County Public Schools, serving the last four as superintendent.

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The school board approved an agreement with MABE, an Annapolis-based lobbying organization, during its Jan. 22 meeting to assist with its search for a new superintendent— MABE will be paid $29,000 plus expenses.

“They’re our consultants,” Voskuhl said. “They have the experience with leading a search, the timeline, the interview process, the whole nine yards.”

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He said everything for the Harford search, however, will be established with the board’s input.

“Everything is done with the board’s input, it’s a collaboration,” he said.

The board used MABE’s services when searching for a new superintendent in 2009, a search that ended with the hiring of Robert Tomback. The former Baltimore County Public Schools deputy superintendent led HCPS from 2009 to 2013.

Former school board member Alysson Krchnavy, who participated in the hiring of Tomback and Canavan, said MABE is “a lot less expensive” than firms that specialize in superintendent searches.

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“There are tons of companies in the country that, that's all they do,” Krchnavy said Monday, noting many states have school districts based around individual communities, rather than Maryland’s system of districts based on counties.

“They charge an exorbitant amount of money to do a search,” she said.

Krchnavy said the nonprofit MABE exists to serve its members, the local boards of education, and its costs are “easily two thirds, or more, less” than the search firms.

She said MABE representatives will sit down with board members and ask them how they want to conduct a search. MABE helped the Harford board with its 2009 search, that led to the Tomback hiring, by setting up input sessions with civic leaders and state and county elected officials.

“It’s very important to engage the public and get that perspective, and get that input,” Krchnavy said.

Krchnavy was appointed to the Harford County board in 2008 by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley. She served until 2015 when the present board, a hybrid of elected and appointed members, was seated. Krchnavy ran against Voskuhl in 2014 to represent greater Bel Air in District C but lost.

She said appointing a superintendent is “the single largest responsibility” of a school board member.

“The Superintendent is the person the Board appoints to implement their policies, and lead the system to success for the students, the community, and beyond,” Krchnavy wrote in a follow-up email Tuesday.

The Harford County Board of Education voted Monday evening in favor of an agreement to pay $29,00 to Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or MABE, to help with the search for a new Harford County Public Schools superintendent.

Canavan was named interim superintendent in May of 2013 and then permanent superintendent in February 2014. Her term started July 1, 2014.

The board did not use MABE before Canavan was hired, although its internal committee worked with the outside firm Ray and Associates, which “specializes in educational executive leadership searches,” according to its website.

Canavan was hired as a permanent superintendent based on her performance as interim, according to Krchnavy.

“They were pleased with Mrs. Canavan, and we voted as a full board to extend her that contact,” Krchnavy said. “She certainly showed her worth.”

Voskuhl declined to discuss his or the board’s vision for the search process ahead of the Feb. 5 meeting with MABE. That meeting, which will be in Harford County, will not be open to the public since it concerns personnel matters, he said.

Voskuhl said the public will be involved in the search. The particulars of the search, public involvement and applicant criteria will be released once “set in stone.”

“As soon as we make the decision it will be released,” he said.

Delane Lewis, founder of Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake and a frequent speaker at school board meetings, said an ideal superintendent would be someone “who is proficient in issues of cultural diversity, restorative practices.”

“I certainly don’t think that’s the only [qualification], but I think that needs to be a factor,” Lewis said Monday.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the Harford County Public Schools’ teachers union, said HCPS needs a superintendent with “fresh eyes and new ideas” to handle issues such as equity and cultural proficiency, staffing and budgeting, and not make budget requests that are $20 million more than what had been funded the previous year, a practice Burbey and some board members have frequently criticized.

“So we need to have a superintendent who is going to look at the budget with fresh eyes and find efficiencies so that we have a budget that's actually fundable,” Burbey said.

This story is updated from an earlier version with additional comments.

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