Frederick County has hired the same Chicago search firm to find its next superintendent as neighboring Montgomery County. "They do searches in school systems in several states simultaneously; what is unusual in this case is that the districts are back to back," said Carl Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. "It's a little eye-catching that they're next to each other and to some extent both large counties." Montgomery Superintendent Jerry Weast will retire at the end of June after a 12-year reign over the school system's 144,000 students and $2.2 billion budget. School board President Christopher Barclay said he does not foresee a conflict with Frederick because Montgomery's public school system is much larger.

"I think it would be a very different candidate," he said. "The organization that would be run here would be much larger, and require a different skill set."

Frederick school board President Brad Young agreed: "I don't think we'll be looking at the same candidate pool. ... Our school system is 40,000 students, and their compensation is significantly higher than what ours is."

Weast enjoys a salary of $216,792 -- only slightly more than Frederick Superintendent Linda Burgee's $201,811 salary. But with benefits, Weast earned nearly $500,000 this year, while Burgee's retirement plan and bonuses are just $40,000.

Frederick is paying Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates $25,000 plus expenses, about $10,000 less than the firm is charging Montgomery.

The firm could not be reached for comment.

Barclay said that "what we always will do with our consultants is make sure we don't see any kind of unnecessary competition or diminished resources coming to us because of what they're doing with Frederick or any other county in the area."

Still, Montgomery Parents' Coalition member Bob Astrove said Frederick may be a more attractive county to candidates than Montgomery.

"Frederick is up-and-coming; per the [state exams], they are outperforming Montgomery, and rising," he said. "Don't be so fast to say they get our second-place candidate. Quite the opposite may be true."

Smith said that while the situation was unusual, "Each search is unique, each board is identifying what it is looking for and what achievements and expectations it has for a prospective new superintendent."