Start searching for school chief, Rawlings says


An influential state legislator has suggested that Baltimore's school board begin a nationwide search for a new school chief executive officer, possibly to replace Carmen V. Russo.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said this week that he has told school board Chairwoman Patricia L. Welch that the system will have to offer a minimum $250,000 salary to attract high-quality candidates.

"If you want school system leadership of a top quality you have to pay them the kind of salary that the best school systems in the country are paying their leaders," Rawlings said. "We have gotten good people, but not of the quality we need to turn the system around."

The Baltimore Democrat proposed that the board look at all the candidates who apply at that salary level, including Russo.

Welch said Rawlings made the comments at a private meeting during the last month that covered a number of topics.

"I heard Delegate Rawlings, but at this point, the board has not engaged in a national search to replace Ms. Russo," Welch said. "We are honoring the contract of Ms. Russo."

Rawlings is the first elected or education official to suggest that Russo, whose administration has come under increasing pressure because of poor financial planning, might be on the way out.

In her third year as the chief of the city schools, Russo must tell the school board by April 1 whether she intends to stay or leave July 1. She has a year remaining on her four-year contract.

Welch said the board has not had a discussion with Russo about her future.

Russo did not return calls yesterday, but she said several weeks ago that she was too busy to look for another job.

Rawlings made the comments about launching a search for a potential new school chief executive officer during an interview about city school administrative pay. The system has 36 people who earn $100,000 or more, more than City Hall or the Baltimore County school system.

"I have a problem with what we pay our school system leadership. ... I think it ought to be substantially higher," he said.

Superintendents in Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties make more money than Russo, who earned $192,000 and a $20,000 bonus last year.

Welch agreed that the board might need to look at what other superintendents are earning when the board searches for its next leader.

"If there is a need to redefine and accelerate the perception of leadership, then I would give Carmen the opportunity to make her own decisions, which are due by [April 1], and then proceed on that basis," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Grasmick added, however, that if the board does begin a search in the spring, it should not "ignore the talent in Maryland." She said she believes a number of qualified administrators are in school systems throughout the state.

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