Candidates for the county school board criticized the rushed, closed nature of the Board of Education's selection of Renee Foose as the county's next superintendent at the last candidates' forum before the April 3 primary, held in Elkridge on Wednesday night.
"I have a problem with the lack of transparency," Ann De Lacy said. "If people knew what the process was ahead of time, we would have been more aware and not caught off guard."
The forum, held by the Greater Elkridge Community Association, drew a crowd of about 30 to St. Augustine Church. While candidates fielded questions on such issues as the budget and student achievement, it was the lack of transparency that drew the most attention, as well as local issues such as school overcrowding and contentious school sites.
Several candidates said they were surprised by the quickness of the selection of Foose, currently deputy superintendent of Baltimore County schools, especially since the only other finalist, S. Dallas Dance, was named as Baltimore County's superintendent at nearly the same time.
"I believe in critical thinking rather than criticism ... but I was surprised that by Tuesday morning, a decision had been made," said David Gertler. "I would love to have been there to ask questions, and that process, to me, felt rushed."
The process was a prime example of the public being heard, but not listened to, said Jackie Scott. "Teachers are teaching during that time (of the afternoon public session). We have to do a better job at communicating."
Bob Ballinger said that while members of the public should trust the judgment of the board and he and other candidates agreed with the ultimate choice, he was dissatisfied that the board spent more time publicly discussing the impeachment of board member Allen Dyer than the search for a new superintendent.
"This was a closed process, as was every other decision that's been made in the last year," Ballinger said.
Even Dyer, who is running for re-election, said he was pleased with the selection of Foose, but the process of selecting her was "fatally flawed."
"I felt I was covered in slime," Dyer said. "It went behind closed doors, in violation of open meetings with a loophole called the 'administrative function,' to ignore the Open Meetings Act. ...
"My fellow board members were very diligent, and they did a good job behind closed doors. You should have seen it. It was fantastic. But you didn't."
Current board members and candidates Ellen Giles and Janet Siddiqui defended the board's process.
"Our objective was to make sure we got the best candidate, and not the one that was left over," Giles said.
At the forum, board candidates also had the chance to speak on school overcrowding, an issue important to Elkridge.
"I don't think Elkridge has been served properly by the board's process," said Corey Andrews, a Howard High School senior and Elkridge resident. "The board needs to be open, and we need to plan farther down the road."
Just because schools aren't yet overcrowded, doesn't mean they won't be soon, Andrews said.
"My kids are in those overcrowded schools," said Leslie Kornreich, a Hanover resident. "The plan has to be a long-term strategic plan for finding land to build new schools ... there's been a failure in planning when we have wound up with a middle school site potentially on the truck path for the CSX Intermodal, or putting an elementary school in the community but on too small a spot."
Kornreich said the board's willingness to put a school so near the CSX facility is reprehensible.
Siddiqui acknowledged the timing was bad when the board was looking at the site and CSX's plans were still unknown, but the board had hoped placing a school in the area would deter CSX's plans to use the area.
Even candidates who are not area residents spoke out against the middle school plans.
"That location is dangerous," Jim Adams said. "There are a lot more recorded train accidents than we realize, and if that bugger's coming through a field and someone says 'Stop,' it's not going to stop."