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Fla. board decision on Russo is delayed


Baltimore's school board members will have to wait a month to find out whether school's chief Carmen V. Russo will leave for a job in Florida.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Education announced that Russo was one of two finalists for a position as chancellor of kindergarten through 12th-grade education. Russo's final interview was scheduled for today, and a vote on the new hire was expected tomorrow.

But yesterday, the Florida board said it was pushing back its decision until Oct. 24 so that it will have time to look for and consider a third candidate for the job. The change came after some Florida board members complained over the weekend that there should have been a third candidate, said board Chairman Phil Handy.

"We promised our board we would have three finalists. One of our finalists dropped out. Our board reined us in and said, 'We want three,' and so that is what we are going to give them," Handy said.

Although such a move might be interpreted to mean the board was unhappy with its two choices for the job - the other is Clifford B. Janey, former Rochester, N.Y., school superintendent - Handy expressed concern that Russo might drop out of the process.

"I am hopeful that Ms. Russo will continue to be one of those finalists," he said.

Handy said the Florida board was simply following the procedures that had been established before the selection process started. The state's secretary of education, who oversees colleges and universities and kindergarten through 12th grades, will ask the search firm hired by the state to find a new candidate.

"We will have a third candidate. I feel confident," Handy said.

Often in national searches for high-level school administrators, once finalists are named a decision is reached almost immediately. The delay could prove awkward for both Russo and the city school board.

To compound matters, the Baltimore school board was surprised by Friday's news. Russo had not informed school officials here that she was interviewing in Florida. Several months ago, she did not inform the board that she had interviewed for the position of chancellor of New York City's schools, a job that has now been filled.

Once they learned Russo could be leaving soon, city school board members were faced with the prospect of losing a leader who has been viewed as helping to raise student performance in the troubled system.

"I think that of course it is a concern, but I think the system is moving in the right direction and we are going to keep doing that," said Baltimore's board President Patricia Welch.

She said that the extension of the Florida search gives the Baltimore board extra time to consider its options if Russo is chosen for the post and accepts it.

But, Welch said, "It is not all-consuming. We are moving ahead with the day-to-day operations of the system."

Russo, 66, is slightly more than halfway through her four-year contract with the city schools. She has not said whether she will take the Florida job if it is offered.

"Both as a board member and as an admirer of Carmen Russo's, I hope this comes to as speedy a resolution as possible. ... I think the delay is unfortunate," said Baltimore school board member Sam Stringfield.

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