Baltimore County

Editorial: Public was given too little voice in selection of new superintendent

We fervently hope the school board's choice for superintendent, Renee Foose, will be everything Howard County deserves: a competent, caring leader who will maintain, even improve the county's first-rate school system.

Unfortunately, the board's process in making that choice has left county residents with few clues as to whether that will be the case.

The board announced in October 2011 that it was beginning its national search for a new superintendent. On Monday, five months later, the board unveiled its two finalists for the position, organized a couple of last-minute meet-and-greet sessions for the candidates to meet the public, then sat down behind closed doors for a few hours to make its decision.

So where's the transparency in that process? Where's the open vetting, the opportunity for thoughtful consideration?

Not much of anywhere, that's where. Howard County residents typically get more time and opportunity to weigh in on whether a new business can open in their neighborhood than they got to weigh in on the person who will be in charge of what is generally considered the county's crown jewel, its public school system.

We realize such secrecy is not unheard of when choosing a superintendent, and we realize as well the reasons: Many candidates are understandably reluctant to have their current employers know they are looking for a new job, and many boards are reluctant to tip their hands when filling such a position. This might have been especially true in this case, given that both Foose and the other finalist, Dallas Dance, were also finalists for the superintendent's job in Baltimore County. (Dance, interestingly enough, was picked for the Baltimore County job within hours of when Foose was picked for the Howard job.)

Still, more open processes are not unheard of either. In Florida, as The Baltimore Sun reported this week, candidates' applications are available to the public and interviews with the board — and the board's deliberations — are open to the public.

"I think the advantages are that it is transparent and open," Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, told the Sun. "There is a lot of community involvement."

That involvement, he said, includes the work of the press and interested unions and helps avoid unpleasant surprises after a superintendent already has been picked.

We are not expecting and most certainly do not want any unpleasant surprises in this case. What we would have wanted, however, was a more open process, and one in which the public had more than one day (less than a day, in truth) to learn about and consider the top candidates.

During this year's campaign for the three open school board seats, several challengers have made the need for more transparency an issue, scoring the current board for not engaging the public on important decisions. The board has provided those challengers examples of such lack of transparency in the past; it provided another doozy this week.

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