Howard County officials call legal dispute between superintendent and school board a troubling distraction

Some Howard County elected officials say a lawsuit filed by the county school superintendent against the school board is a distraction casting a shadow over one of the best school systems in the country.

Superintendent Renee Foose filed a lawsuit last week in Howard County Circuit Court describing a power struggle between her and the seven-member board, which saw three new members elected in November. Foose alleges that the board has acted to undermine her authority through measures she contends are illegal, and that some members are working to oust her.


County Executive Allan Kittleman called the lawsuit an "unfortunate distraction," and said in a statement he hopes "the board and superintendent will work together to resolve it as quickly as possible."

Kittleman, a Republican, said he was "willing to help in any way possible to reach a positive resolution."

Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat and chairman of the county's Senate delegation in Annapolis, also expressed concern. He said lawmakers will talk with the school board and Foose in hopes they can settle their differences out of court.

"All of this seems to be a huge distraction from the primary mission of the system, which is to educate our children," he said.

Foose's lawsuit seeks to have a judge overturn decisions she contends are unlawful. She alleges that the board sought to strip her of authority by limiting her ability to communicate with legal staff and hire and fire some employees, and by excluding her from meetings where key decisions are made. Foose also objected to the board's decision to hire its own legal counsel — a former school employee whose position she eliminated.

The complaint alleges that the board has acted to "marginalize [Foose's] authority in the eyes of the public and staff and to constructively remove her from office."

Foose has declined to discuss the suit except to say she hopes to work with the board.

As is the case with most school system's in the state, the Howard County superintendent's day-to-day management of the system is not only outlined in Maryland law, but by county board policy. Foose's contract states the board must support the superintendent and not impede her efforts in implementing Vision 2018 — a guiding plan that lays out objectives for the system.

The board has not formally responded to the complaint, but board chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt said the actions questioned by Foose were motivated by concerns about transparency, spending and operations.

"Dr. Foose seems to think she has the final say about what the board can and cannot do, that she oversees us, and not the other way around," Vaillancourt said. "It's a question about who is ultimately responsible for the school system, and it's always been agreed that it falls to the board of education."

Foose's lawsuit also alleges that board member Christina Delmont-Small made disparaging remarks questioning Foose's ability to support students because of her sexual orientation. A spokesman said Foose declined to discuss her orientation and believes the board "should be focused on increasing student achievement and opportunities for youth, not her private life."

Delmont-Small did not respond to requests for comment.

School board member Christine O'Connor, a supporter of Foose, said the lawsuit "was necessary to show her leadership to a board that's trying to usurp her authority and take over the school system."

She called Foose an effective leader who is passionate about education and said she believes several board actions were part of a "witch hunt" against Foose by some members — especially those backed by the teachers union, which has a strained relationship with Foose.


Vaillancourt said she is not seeking to get rid of Foose, but the board is committed to asserting its authority.

"I think Dr. Foose is an extremely talented woman with lot of terrific qualities, and unfortunately has not been supervised," Vaillancourt said.

"So if the tide were to change and she were to agree to be directed by the board as she should have been all along, then we could probably do wonderful things together. Litigation doesn't bode well for that hope."