At a forum Tuesday night to learn what qualities Frederick County wants in a new school superintendent, the consultants outnumbered the public 3 to 1.
As in three consultants and one member of the public.
"I came to hear what everyone else was saying," said David Minnis of Adamstown. "But I guess there's no one else here, so I've got to say something."
So for 25 minutes, Minnis talked, and the consultants -- who are being paid $18,000, plus expenses, to identify candidates for the job -- listened.
"I would like to see a superintendent who feels accountable to the citizens of Frederick County, and the children, as opposed to the educational hierarchy," he said.
The consultants, from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education's Superintendent Search Service, nodded. Chief consultant Beatrice Gordon addressed Minnis, who has a son in 12th grade, as if lecturing a crowd. Explaining each stage of the seven-month-long search, she invited him to fill out a "Stakeholder Input Form."
On the form were three questions:
1. Tell us the good things about Frederick County Public Schools and community.
2. What are the characteristics, qualities and skills you would like to see in a new superintendent?
3. What issues will a new superintendent need to know about in order to be successful in Frederick County?
But at a dozen meetings with civic and business leaders, teachers, school staff members and the public Tuesday and yesterday, the turnout raised another question: Who cares?
Tuesday found the consultants presiding over one echoing conference room after another. A session for teachers drew one instructor. One for elected officials featured six. When Gordon appeared for the Board of County Commissioners' regular meeting, Commissioner Michael L. Cady -- the school liaison for the county board, which funds half the district's budget -- left.
"I had a meeting with the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Frederick County, and they're more important than she is," Cady said.
Frederick County lost its superintendent, Jack D. Dale, in May when he left to become Fairfax County's schools chief. Through the forums, the search team hopes to gather a list of qualifications to guide a nationwide search for Dale's replacement to lead the 40,000-student district.
About 200 invitations were sent to local leaders, from school principals to police. The meetings were publicized in the media and at a school board meeting Sept. 22.
At the root of the sparse attendance, some participants said, is the community's comfort with Linda Burgee, the acting superintendent whom many want for the permanent post. Others gave this explanation: complacency with schools whose performance is solid, if not world-beating.
"We're early in the process," Gordon said after Minnis had gone home, ending Tuesday night's meetings. The new superintendent is expected to be named by mid-May.
When the top three or four finalists visit the community in April for a similar series of meetings, "there will be a complete and utter turnaround," Gordon predicted.
"I think that's a scream," Cady said when told of the turnout. Along with some others in the community, he has been pushing the school board to offer a contract to Burgee, 49, a lifelong Frederick resident who has worked for the school system since 1976.
The national search underway, Cady said, "is a tremendous waste of human energy and money." He estimates that all told, the search will cost the school board $30,000.
Board President Linda Naylor said she was not aware of the turnout because the consultants "didn't want us there." The concern was that school board oversight would intimidate the crowd. Naylor said Gordon would brief her on the forum results, but she didn't know when.
Two years ago, 1,200 residents turned out for a meeting to pressure the county to free up more money for school construction, Cady said. In the run-up to that showdown, he said, he fielded 1,600 e-mails. The outpouring worked: The commissioners ponied up another $9 million that year.
Last night found Gordon still hoping that the second and last public forum would draw a crowd. Although a meeting with business leaders early in the day drew six people, the consultants later tagged onto the agenda for a student government meeting, garnering a captive audience of about 45 middle and high school students. "It's been better," Gordon said.