The Prince George's County Board of Education has chosen an Iowa-based head-hunting firm to seek candidates to replace departed schools chief Andre J. Hornsby, officials announced yesterday.

Ray and Associates Inc. of Cedar Rapids will receive at least $35,000 through its agreement with the board, school system spokesman John White said.

The announcement came nearly four months after Hornsby submitted his resignation May 27 amid an FBI investigation into his handling of federal funds and school contracts and a related ethics controversy. Hornsby, who served half of a four-year term, has denied wrongdoing.

"Ray and Associates has the experience and resources to recruit quality candidates from around the country and find excellent applicants from within our state and county," school board member Charlene M. Dukes (Glenn Dale) said in a prepared statement.

The firm helped briefly with a recent school superintendent search in Howard County. Other recent clients include school systems in Newport News, Hampton and Roanoke in Virginia, according to the announcement.

The consultant for the 2003 search that tapped Hornsby was the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

Finding a leader for one of the Washington area's largest school systems, and one of the 20 largest in the nation, could prove difficult. The school board, appointed in 2002 by the governor and county executive, is scheduled to be replaced next year by an elected board. Political uncertainty, therefore, would be a major wild card for prospective candidates.

The interim chief, Howard A. Burnett, repeatedly has said he is not a candidate for the permanent post. He earns $100 an hour for up to 50 hours a week, overseeing a system with 199 schools, an estimated 139,000 students and an annual operating budget of nearly $1.4 billion.