Respect is what will keep Hickey in Howard, ex-board officials say


The game of brinkmanship between Howard County school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and the county school board continued yesterday.

Dr. Hickey is being wooed by the school system that serves Raleigh, N.C. -- wooing that forced the Howard board last week to offer him a fourth term starting in 1996. But the 56-year-old educator, just back from visiting Raleigh during the weekend, hasn't yet responded to the board's offer.

Just what's it going to take for him to stay in Howard? Respect and backing from the board, say former board members involved in reappointing him to a third term in 1992.

"I don't think it's the dollar thing," said Dana Hanna, former school board chairman. "More broadly, it's the challenge, the commitment of the board to him. It's one thing, the frontal assault that goes with the turf, but it's important to feel the commitment -- that he has 100 percent [of the board] behind him."

Dr. Hickey had not gotten a commitment from the board until last Thursday, when it first offered to reappoint him. The offer came the night before he was to meet parents, teachers and students in Wake County, a 77,000-student school system, where he is one of two finalists for the top school post.

Board members had not been planning to make a decision on his reappointment until after they completed an annual evaluation of his work in several weeks, but their hand has been forced by Wake County's interest in Dr. Hickey.

Dr. Hickey and his wife, Nichole, have not decided whether he will remain as Howard's superintendent or take the Wake County job if it is offered, his wife said yesterday. He could not be %J reached for comment.

His competitor for the Wake job, Jim Surratt, superintendent of a 37,000-student suburban Dallas school system, is to visit Raleigh this weekend. The 51-year-old educator, a North Carolina native, is favored to win the job because several Wake school officials have said they wanted someone from their home state.

Dr. Surratt has said that if he were to leave his Plano, Texas, school system, it would be to return to North Carolina. He already has served almost 20 years in public education posts there.

Judy Hoffman, Wake's school board chairwoman, said board members want to choose between Dr. Surratt and Dr. Hickey immediately after Dr. Surratt's visit this weekend.

She said Wake board members have not decided what to do if the finalist who is offered the job rejects it. "We certainly hope and assume the candidates who have come so far . . . are seriously considering coming here," Ms. Hoffman said. "We have proceeded that way and feel very, very good about both candidates."

If Dr. Hickey were to leave Howard, then the strategic planning process dubbed "Beyond the Year 2000" that he started in the fall to chart a course for the school system would be in jeopardy, said Deborah Kendig, who served 12 years on the Howard board, including a stint as chairwoman.

"If they lose Dr. Hickey, they're going to lose this planning process," Ms. Kendig said. "They're going to have to go to the new person and start from scratch."

As to how the board might induce Dr. Hickey to stay, Sandra French, the Howard board's vice chairwoman, said: "I'm not sure money is the answer. It really has to do with personal and professional fulfillment. I think that's something not many people can lay claim to when they look back at their lives."

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