- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

Instability in Prince George’s County’s school board could scare off more superintendent candidates than low test scores or underachieving minority students, education professionals say.

The appointed board that will likely hire a superintendent to succeed outgoing schools Chief Executive Officer Andre J. Hornsby will be replaced by an elected board in November 2006, just months after the expected 12-month search will be completed.

“That’s a negative,” said Stephen C. Joel, of McPherson & Jacobson LLC, a Nebraska-based headhunting firm specializing in national searches for school superintendents. “When you go out in the marketplace, one of the things a superintendent is looking for is stability.”

The upcoming school-board election will mark the third reinvention of the board in six years.

The previously elected Prince George’s County Board of Education was deemed dysfunctional and disbanded in 2000, replaced with members appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry.

Howard W. Stone, the board’s vice chairman, said he and other members realize that such instability could hinder the hiring process.

“That’s a consideration but not something that will stop us from making sure our schools are governed,” he said. “We are not going to abdicate [the search] to the new board. … We have a responsibility to the schools to move on.”

At a retreat from June 11 to 12, the board members are expected to debate whether to hire an interim superintendent or install an acting one until the elected board takes office.

Still, the prospect of a school board in flux might not deter all the best candidates, said Timothy G. Quinn, managing director of the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy, which trains leaders for metropolitan school districts.

“Someone could be attracted by the idea that they will have a brand new board, a clean slate of people to start with,” he said. “That is oftentimes more advantageous than a system where a board has been in place that exhibits bad habits or judgments.”

Prince George’s also is conducting a search while at least 22 other large, urban school districts seek superintendents, including Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla.

That Prince George’s 136,000-student district has had two chief executive officers and two acting superintendents in the past six years could also deter candidates.

Mr. Hornsby held the job for two years before resigning last week amid an FBI investigation and in advance of an independent audit expected to be released today focusing on accusations that he mishandled federal money, particularly with a $1 million contract he gave to a company that employed his live-in girlfriend.

His predecessor, Iris T. Metts, lasted a little more than two years before she was fired by the school board and blamed for the deterioration of the school system, the 18th-largest in the country.

Prince George’s students in 2004 scored below the state average in several categories, and the county’s black and Hispanic students receive tests scores significantly below their white classmates in several categories, according to the Maryland State Board of Education.

For example, 4.9 percent of county third-graders could read at an “advanced” level, compared with a state average of 12.5 percent. In the algebra assessment test for high-school students, 66.9 percent of white Prince George’s students passed, compared with 32.2 percent for blacks and 37.4 percent for Hispanics.

“Good superintendents want challenges,” said Mr. Joel, the headhunter. “I don’t know any of them that are looking for a cushy job to maintain the status quo. The question is: If you go to these districts, will [the board] give you the opportunity to succeed or will you run into political obstacles?”


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