With more than two dozen candidates in the mix to become Anne Arundel County's next school superintendent -- and only one of them known -- this might seem like a good time for Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson to publicly make his case for the job.

But beyond acknowledging that he has submitted his name for consideration, the low-key Lawson is playing this race much like he's always operated.

"Yes, I am a candidate, but I'm really kind of limited on what I will allow myself to say, because we're still in the midst of the process," said Lawson, 54, who took over on a temporary basis from the retiring Carol S. Parham in January.

For taking on the additional responsibilities of superintendent, on top of his duties as associate superintendent, Lawson is being paid $3,000 per month on top of his $123,641 annual salary. When she retired last year, Parham was making $152,545 a year.

School Board member Joseph H. Foster, who is leading the search for a new superintendent, said salary will be an important element of negotiations.

"The last thing we want to do is put someone in there and a year or two from now have them jump to some other system," Foster said.

At the same time, the competition for superintendents has become so stiff that neighboring districts have been paying them more than ever.

In Howard County, for example, Superintendent John O'Rourke got $180,000, plus $10,000 toward an annuity and a $400-a-month car allowance, under his opening contract. Prince George's County Superintendent Iris T. Metts makes $196,000 and Montgomery County's Jerry D. Weast tops the $200,000 mark.

Those salaries reflect the increased demands on superintendents, in addition to the competition. Parham's successor will have to be an academic leader, a team-builder and a statesman for a school system with nearly 75,000 students, an operating budget of more than $550,000 and a $70 million capital budget, Foster said.

"Our primary interest is in finding someone who really can be the academic leader that we want," Foster said.

Lawson has earned high marks as the school system's representative during contentious disagreements over the middle school curriculum.

"He wasn't a proponent of a 'one-size-fits-all' plan," said one observer who did not want to be identified. "He wanted schools to have the flexibility to decide what was best for themselves."

A 32-year employee of the school system, Lawson is also a 1965 graduate of Severna Park High School. His wife, Kathy, is a social studies teacher at Arundel High School.

The board plans to have a new superintendent selected by late April.

GOP Candidates Emerging Against Owens

The field of potential Republican challengers to County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) continues to grow.

The latest to declare his interest is Tom Angelis, a Davidsonville resident who served as the county's recreation and parks director under former county executive John G. Gary.

Angelis, a schoolteacher in Baltimore, will likely face former Maryland legislator Phillip D. Bissett in the Republican primary. Bissett, who lives in Mayo and serves on the county liquor board, has yet to formally declare his candidacy but is widely expected to run.

Another Republican with a declared interest in the race is Atwood Barry Tate, the former attorney for the County Council. County Clerk Robert Duckworth, long rumored to be interested in a bid, seems more inclined to run for a third term as clerk than take on Owens, a popular incumbent.

There's still plenty of time to test the waters. Candidates have until July 1 to file for the November election.

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.