Here’s a bit of good news: Montgomery County schools’ budget crisis hasn’t scared off top-notch candidates for Superintendent Jerry Weast’s job.

The head of the Illinois firm conducting the MCPS superintendent search says that candidates aren’t worried about dealing with the headache of major budget cuts proposed for the next fiscal year. That’s because many school systems across the country are in similar—or worse—financial straits.

“I’m not hearing that from people because Montgomery County is not unique in that aspect,” says Hank Gmitro, president of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. “The reality of it is that’s the nature of the work that superintendents do now because there are all kinds of financial challenges.”

Gmitro would not say how many people had applied for the job, but said he would be presenting the firm’s slate of “high quality” candidates to the school board Monday night. The board most likely will select a half dozen or more to interview in early April, he says.

The session will be closed to the public and candidates aren’t likely to be publicly identified, Gmitro says, but the board is expected to decide what information to release about them.

Gmitro says the secrecy is essential if MCPS wants to attract top candidates. Successful superintendents who may be interested in the job aren’t likely to take the risk of damaging relations in their own communities if they know they will be identified, he says. “Lots of people would never consider talking to the board if their candidacy was public,” he says.

About 470 parents, teachers, school staff and administrators and community members did get an opportunity to say what they wanted in a school leader during forums in January and February. And nearly 3,400 people filled out online surveys about the issue. Since then, information about the process has been scarce as the firm reviewed applicants.

But the public will have some say at the table. Some parents and community members have been asked to join a committee that will interview the three finalists before the school board interviews them for a second time, Gmitro says.

Since the forums, the firm has been actively recruiting candidates, reflecting “the board’s desire to cast as wide a net as possible” and to possibly include people in “both educational positions and non-traditional positions.”

Gmitro says, in his firm’s experience with superintendent searches, “two-thirds to 75 percent of the people ultimately hired are recruited for the position.”

“If you’re a successful leader, you are probably are going to wait until you’re asked as opposed to initiating it. The people who ultimately are going to be hired are not out looking for a job right now.”

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at julie.rasicot@bethesdamagazine.com