Arundel schools spent $62,100 on search


The Anne Arundel County public school system spent $62,100 on this year's search for a new superintendent -- a slightly higher price tag than expected but one that appears to be in line with similar searches elsewhere.

School board members said they were not surprised by the cost of the search that ended with Eric J. Smith's hiring from Charlotte, N.C., this summer.

"We were looking at anywhere between $50,000 and $60,000, and maybe a little higher," said board President Michael J. McNelly. "The money was not only well-spent, but it was in the ballpark."

Nationwide, the quest for a superintendent typically costs between $50,000 and $100,000, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based coalition of the country's largest urban public school systems.

One unexpected cost of Anne Arundel's search process was paying for Smith and another candidate to fly in a second time for a final round of interviews, McNelly said.

The board president said the amount of money spent might have been an issue of contention if the superintendent had turned out to be unsatisfactory. But Smith's work since taking the helm and his receipt of a National Educator's Award last week would appear to validate the expense, McNelly said.

The money spent on the search includes a $36,500 consulting fee paid to Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, an Illinois-based search firm that specializes in the hiring of education administrators.

The total also includes $19,937 in expenses associated with bringing five candidates to Annapolis for interviews; flying four board members to Charlotte, N.C., to visit Smith's former school district; and expenses incurred by the consulting firm.

The remaining costs were $3,900 in advertising and more than $1,700 in food consumed during meetings related to the search.

The school systems in Howard and Baltimore counties each reported spending about $50,000 on their superintendent searches two years ago. Howard County's school system is smaller than Anne Arundel's, and Baltimore County's is larger.

Those counties, however, were charged only $25,000 in consulting fees by Hazard.

According to the firm, the fee is based on many factors, such as the size of the school system, the extent of the search and the time of year during which the search is conducted.

Sheila Finlayson, president of the Anne Arundel County teachers union, said the amount spent on the search seems reasonable.

"In the world we live in today, that's what is done," Finlayson said. "You hire a search firm and they do their magic ... and you pay for it."

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who has criticized Smith's $300,000 pay package as excessive, declined to comment on the board's expenditures in the search process.

"Certainly, the county executive wants every available dollar to go into the classroom," said Matt Diehl, Owens' spokesman. "We've moved forward and, so far, have a very good working relationship with Dr. Smith."

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