Howard and Baltimore counties' superintendent searches collide

By the time the Howard County Board of Education made its final decision this week to offer its open superintendent of schools position to Renee Foose, its only other candidate for the position, S. Dallas Dance, had already accepted a similar offer from the Baltimore County Board of Education.

That's according to timelines of the two decisions provided by Sandra French, Howard's board chairman, and Lawrence Schmidt, Baltimore County's board president.

It's also just one of many unusual aspects of the two neighboring counties' superintendent searches, which collided in more ways than one in the past week.

Both Foose, deputy superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, and Dance, chief middle school officer of the Houston Independent School District in Texas, were finalists in the superintendent searches of both counties — despite the fact that the two counties used different search firms.

Howard publicly announced Foose and Dance as its final two candidates on Monday morning, ahead of two meet-and-greet sessions and a question-and-answer session between residents and the two candidates Monday afternoon and evening, respectively.

According to French, Howard board members convened following the question-and-answer session to deliberate on which of the two candidates they should offer the position.

"We wanted to pick first, absolutely," French said of picking a candidate before Baltimore County. "And yet, we didn't speed up the process. We insisted on a public reception.

"If we had truly wanted to beat (Baltimore County) to the gun, we would have deliberated in total secrecy, and not included the public, but that's not the Howard County way."

Still, Howard board members believed up until they offered Foose the position at midnight Monday that both candidates were still on the table.

"We thought they were both available when we made our offer," board member Cindy Vaillancourt said. "If (Dance) did receive an offer from Baltimore County before (Foose) received an offer from us, it didn't affect our decision. When everyone was meeting the candidates, both were still on the market."

Vaillancourt said both counties got their first choice of superintendent.

Early acceptance

But Dance had received and accepted an offer from Baltimore County about one hour before the Howard County board made its decision, and had received a tentative offer for the position from Baltimore County on Saturday, two days before the Howard meet-and-greets.

According to Schmidt, Baltimore County had conducted a final interview with Dance on Saturday, when it offered him the position contingent upon a favorable response from Interim State Superintendent Bernard Sadusky on the question of whether Dance's teaching experience met the state's requirement of three years in the classroom.

At the beginning of his career, Dance had worked as a teacher for two years in Virginia before receiving an exception in that state to become an assistant principal before completing his third year of teaching, Schmidt said.

The question was whether Dance's experience serving as an adjunct professor at multiple universities also counted toward meeting Maryland's three-year requirement.

Schmidt said he told Dance that the offer was there, but that if the county didn't get "a favorable resolution" on the teaching issue from the state, it would be rescinded.

Based on that information, Dance proceeded with the events in Howard two days later.

But at about 8:15 p.m. on Monday, as Howard residents continued their questions, Schmidt got a call from the county's search firm confirming that Sadusky's office had no objection to Dance being named a superintendent in the state, he said.

When Schmidt reached Dance at 11 p.m. — an hour before the Howard board would make its decision against Dance and in favor of Foose — he offered Dance the job and Dance accepted.

Schmidt said he hadn't known Dance was even a candidate for the position in Howard until Howard announced it Monday morning, after Baltimore County had already made its tentative offer to Dance, and that Howard's interest in Dance did not affect Baltimore County's selection process.

"Believe me, this is not Baltimore County versus Howard County," he said. "We were following our own schedule and our own protocol. We had our interview schedule set up a long time ago, because we had candidates coming in from all over the place."

He added: "I know it's an unusual situation that it came up with Dr. Dance being a candidate in both jurisdictions and Howard County hiring Dr. Foose coming out of Baltimore County, but all I can say is we were following protocols."

Baltimore County board member Michael Bowler declined to comment on the timeline of the deliberation process in picking Dance, but said the overlap between the two counties' final candidates and selection processes was surprising.

"Obviously the search firms don't collude, as they're competitive and they don't tell each other what they're doing, and so that both of them came up with these two candidates is pretty amazing when you consider the number of people around the country," Bowler said.

Foose said she did not know Dance had been given the Baltimore County job when she accepted the Howard job. Dance could not be reached for comment.

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