The Frederick County school board hopes to release a list of candidates as early as this week for an interim replacement for Superintendent Jack Dale, who departs July 1, the board's president said.
"I think we would have at least half a dozen" potential candidates for a one-year appointment, said Board of Education President Linda S. Naylor. "The person we choose could end up becoming our new superintendent or just be here for the interim. Because this happened so rapidly, we haven't made those decisions."
Dale, who was Frederick's superintendent for eight years, stunned the community last week when he was hired by Fairfax County to lead its 166,000-student school system. Frederick has about 40,000 students.
Naylor said Dale told the Frederick school board of his candidacy "a day or two" before it became public. The board recently signed Dale to a new four-year contract, which required him to provide at least five months' notice before resigning. But board members agreed to waive that requirement, Naylor said, when he came to them about the Fairfax job.
"It would have definitely been nice to have more time to make the decisions we're making," she said, "but on the other hand, it's a great opportunity for Dr. Dale."
The full board will participate in the selection process, Naylor said. Members have not decided whether to conduct a nationwide search or whether they will hire a search firm, as did Fairfax County, to assist.
By law, Maryland school superintendents are appointed to four-year terms, beginning July 1, said Jamie Cannon, the Frederick school system's executive director for legal services. An interim superintendent should be appointed by July 1 as well, but if the board is unable to finalize its choice by then, Dale's duties could be assumed temporarily by the county's two assistant superintendents, officials said.
How to handle the search, Cannon said, "is up to each local district." However, interim and permanent superintendent appointments must be approved by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
In an interview last week, Dale said he departs with mixed feelings and at least one task left unfinished that could prove instructive to his successor. "One piece I wish I'd achieved is a consensus between the Board of County Commissioners and the Board of Education on what constitutes adequate funding of education," he said.
Typically, Dale said, he would submit a spending "wish list" to the county commissioners, who approve the school system's budget, to consider each year. Instead, he said, he wanted the board to consider shifting to a fixed method of funding that would provide more long-term certainty and eliminate the annual haggling over individual programs and expenses.
For example, he said, the county could allocate a fixed percentage of its total budget, or a percentage of annual revenue, to schools instead of the annually negotiated amount. "To eliminate the fighting in the past, I've suggested about six ways" to establish a fixed school budget, he said.
Dale was assistant superintendent of a school system in Washington state when he responded to an education journal ad seeking candidates for the Frederick job in the mid-1990s. Now, looking ahead, he said that the superintendent who succeeds him will need to understand how the Frederick County leadership's fiscal conservatism translates into school funding. In many communities, he said, school needs are assessed before the property tax rate is set. In Frederick, he said, the school district is presented with the tax structure and expected to work within it.
However, "When I talk with parents, their interest is in programs first," he said. "They say, 'if it's for schools, then raise our taxes.'
"That tension," he said, "is one a new person will have to work with."
Michael L. Cady (R), vice president of the board of commissioners and the board's liaison to the school system, said Dale had a habit of making doomsday predictions if the county failed to satisfy his spending requests. Last year, Cady said, Dale asserted that the schools might have to lay off 70 teachers. Cady said such statements only inflamed the public against the board.
"When the final gavel banged [last year], the Board of Education was in the best position" it had been in for years, Cady said.
Cady said he backed Dale's proposal to peg the school budget to county revenue, but it never came to a vote because of a lack of interest from most school and county board members. He said that some of Dale's spending ideas would have required large tax increases. "If the county had granted Dale's wish list this year, the board of commissioners would have had to raise property taxes by about 18 percent," he said.
Cady, who said he prefers that Dale's successor come from within the Frederick community, said: "The strength of a good manager is the quality of his staff, and he has created a very good staff. So I don't have any heartburn over this."
Dale drew praise from school board and county board members alike for his collaborative style and his ability to guide his administrators without interfering in their work.
While she did not list specific qualities the board is seeking, Naylor said the new superintendent must meet with the entire school board's approval. "It would be somebody that every single board member believed would do a great job and be the best person for Frederick County," she said. Fortunately, she said, "The board works very well together."
While the budget issue Dale mentioned has not been addressed by the board, "I think it is going to be discussed separately and not in the same context as talking with a superintendent.
"We have a challenge in front of us," Naylor said. "But I feel very confident we'll be able to select somebody who's going to work well with the community."