D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other city officials may ask the District's business community to contribute to a compensation package for the next school superintendent that could approach $600,000 in salary, bonuses and other benefits, a Williams spokesman said yesterday.

Williams and other officials -- who are considering four candidates to lead the city's troubled school system -- have not determined what portion of that sum might be paid in annual salary, mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said. But the final figure is likely to far exceed the $175,000 salary paid to former superintendent Paul L. Vance, who resigned in November, he said.

Bullock said a large increase in compensation is necessary to attract a top-quality candidate to the District. It would be difficult, however, for the city to raise that kind of money on its own, he said. So Williams and other city officials are discussing the formation of a public-private partnership to assemble the compensation package, including salary, bonuses, relocation expenses -- perhaps even a house, city officials said.

"There's clear support in the private sector that says salary should not be an impediment to getting the best candidate we can find," Bullock said. "So they're willing to step up to the plate. And assuming this could be done in an appropriate way, the mayor has always urged the private sector to step up and help the District where they can."

A superintendent search committee has recommended four candidates to city and school officials.According to sources close to the search process, the candidates are former New York City school chancellor Rudolph F. Crew; former Long Beach, Calif., superintendent Carl A. Cohn; Syracuse, N.Y., School Superintendent Stephen C. Jones; and former airline executive Candy Lee.

Crew, in particular, is being aggressively wooed by other school districts. This week, officials in St. Louis announced that he had turned down an offer to lead that city's school system.

Last month, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted overwhelmingly to appoint Crew as its next superintendent. School officials there have discussed paying Crew about $350,000 in salary and bonuses, the Miami Herald has reported. The compensation package is under negotiation, said Michael M. Krop, chair of the Miami-Dade County School Board. Crew has not accepted or declined the offer.

While Crew appears to be the most sought-after candidate, he is not the only one of the four who may "require some additional private-sector support," Bullock said.

District business leaders have long expressed concern about the state of the city's 64,200-student school system, whose test scores rank among the lowest in the nation. City and business leaders have said that improved schools are critical to the city's economic revival.

Bullock said business leaders -- including members of the Federal City Council -- have made it clear that they are willing to assist the city's effort to hire a strong school superintendent. It is not clear, he said, how much of a compensation package would come from government and how much from the private sector.

Such a partnership may not be unprecedented in the District, Bullock said. City officials have in the past considered accepting help from the business community to hire candidates for top city jobs, he said. He and other city officials said they were not sure whether that sort of a financial arrangement has ever been implemented.

"Obviously, the mayor would want to make sure any kind of discussion along these lines is properly vetted by the corporation counsel. And the ethics laws of the District have to be carefully adhered to," Bullock said. "But the general consensus is it can be done."

A group of seven city and school officials known as the "collaborative" met yesterday to discuss the candidates, who have been interviewed by the search committee. That group will recommend a candidate or candidates to the school board, which will appoint a superintendent.

Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who chairs the council's education committee and serves as a member of the collaborative, said a recommendation could come as soon as this week. He said the group has focused on finding "the right fit" in a candidate rather than on compensation.

"We've agreed to two things: One is we want the best superintendent we can get. And two, we're committed to paying a competitive price for the best we can get," Chavous said.

The Council of Great City Schools, a coalition representing 61 urban districts across the country, issued a report in October saying superintendents in member systems of similar size to the District's were paid an average salary of $193,728 a year. Annual bonuses in 2003 ranged up to $100,000.

Given those statistics, William P. Wilson, a school activist in Ward 7, said the city should be able to find a quality schools leader for far less than the sums under discussion.

"Kids over here can't get a good meal," Wilson said. "We don't have books, we don't have teachers, and they're going to pay $700,000? It's ridiculous."

Rudolph Crew, shown in 1999, is one of four D.C. superintendent candidates.