A school district's slipping grade in building public trustworthiness [Commentary]

Howard County Times
Some attending the meeting where Superintendent Renee Foose's contract was approved described a circus-like at

The proprietors of the county school system appear to be growing ever more tone-deaf, slowly undermining the credibility of their decision-making and trustworthiness.

Eyebrows were raised last month when the governor chided the school superintendent for what he perceived as "a palpable lack of trust" between parents and the school system over the handling of mold problems at a Glenwood school — a rare executive-office rebuke that raises broader questions about school maintenance.

Next, the school board swiftly awarded Superintendent Renee Foose a generous new contract, paying little regard to citizen rumblings about her indifferent leadership, fueling more murmurs that the public's voice is being marginalized. Some attending the meeting where the contract was approved described a circus-like atmosphere.

Then came the vote last week by the county's representatives to the Maryland legislature approving a bill to mandate a state ombudsman's review of the school district's denials of public requests for information since 2012.

"In Howard County, we have an issue to be resolved to restore public trust," state Del. Robert Flanagan after the vote.

Most damning was the comment from Del. Terri Hill about the school board after the delegation's vote: "It seems to me that they treat the public with absolute disdain, and then they go back and try to figure out how to manipulate within the system to treat them with disdain again."

These episodes are more than a communications problem — they point to undercurrents of opacity and mistrust. Ignominious behavior toward critics is no way to lead a respected, high-quality institution.

The quality of Howard's public schools and the county's vitality are linked. A dismissive attitude toward legitimate public concerns corrodes that link and erodes confidence.

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