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Published in Print: May 26, 2004, as Miami-Dade Snares Sought-After Leader

Miami-Dade Snares Sought-After Leader

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After a very public courting by several large school systems, Rudolph F. Crew signed a contract last week to head the Miami-Dade County schools, a deal that will make him one of the highest-paid superintendents in the country.

The 7-2 vote by the Miami-Dade school board on May 17 appeared to end speculation about where Mr. Crew, a former chancellor of the New York City schools, would settle. One provision in his contract, however, allows him to cancel the agreement if a home loan isn’t arranged for him by the end of May.

In recent months, St. Louis; East Baton Rouge, La.; the District of Columbia; and Ravenswood, Calif., a small district in the northern part of the state, had also sought Mr. Crew as a possible superintendent. He was being so widely courted that a San Jose, Calif., Mercury News editorial about the situation was headlined, "Rudy, You Flirt."

Last week, District of Columbia officials reluctantly accepted Mr. Crew’s decision to drop out of the running. News- media accounts contained much speculation and finger-pointing about why the district was unable to win Mr. Crew.

‘One More’

In an interview with Education Week, he said he was concerned that the Washington district’s governance structure could complicate a superintendent’s lines of authority. The school board—a mix of elected and mayorally appointed members—manages school operations, but the District of Columbia Council, the mayor, and Congress also have oversight roles. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been repeatedly rebuffed in his bid to gain more control over school operations. ("District of Columbia Schools Facing Leadership Dilemma," March 31, 2004.)

But Mr. Crew said his chief motivation for choosing the Florida district was that he views it as a good match between his skills and the challenges offered by an "internationally diverse" district of 363,000 students. Such a large district not only offers possibilities for positive change on a massive scale, he said, but also a way to help children nationwide by demonstrating that large urban systems can improve.

"If it’s going to happen, if you’re going to make a difference and push the borders, if you’re going to get some dialogue going nationally, Miami is a place it can happen," Mr. Crew said.

Currently, Mr. Crew is the director of school district reform initiatives for the Stupski Foundation, based in Mill Valley, Calif. He has run a leadership institute at the University of Washington, and served as schools chief in Tacoma, Wash., as well as in New York City. At 53, he said he has reached "a stage of life where you have one more in you."

"I want to land and be part of a community for a long time," he said. "This work is both a marathon and a sprint. You want it done, but you want it done right."

The Miami contract will pay Mr. Crew a base salary of $295,000, an amount that could rise to $360,000 if he stays six years. He stands to receive performance bonuses of up to $50,000 in his first year and up to $80,000 by his sixth year.

In addition to providing benefits such as insurance, retirement, and a new car every two years, the district agreed to help Mr. Crew obtain a home loan of an unspecified amount. An addendum to his contract specifies that he can back out of the deal if the home loan is not arranged within two weeks of when the board approved the contract.

Outside Loan Help

The addendum says the loan’s principal and interest will be "supported and paid by donations" from nonschool revenues or sources. The Miami Herald reported that business leaders were arranging a loan, one-quarter of which would be forgiven each year for four years.

Marta Pérez, one of two Miami school board members to vote against the contract, said her sole concern was the dollar value of the deal. The district, with an annual budget exceeding $4 billion, is having a hard enough time meeting the cost of implementing Florida’s class-size initiative and other expenses, she said.

"When we are in a financial crisis, I think it was the time for more prudence," she said. "I wish Mr. Crew the best, but he’s an expensive acquisition."

School board member Perla Tabares Hantman said Mr. Crew’s contract is fair, given his experience managing large districts and the demand for his services. "We decided it was worth it," she said. "You cannot talk the talk unless you are ready to walk the walk."

Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, said he can’t recall another case in which multiple districts had clamored so intensely for one superintendent candidate. In his view, it reflects the education world’s need for good leadership, the perceived shortage of leadership, and how those combine to set the monetary value of the service.

Salaries for leaders in public precollegiate education remain low relative to those earned by private- sector leaders of similar-size operations, Mr. Hunter said, but the gap is narrowing.

"The price of poker has gone up," Mr. Hunter said. "The cost of talent in all areas has gone up through the 1980s and ’90s, and leadership is no different."

Vol. 23, Issue 38, Page 3

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