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Dissonance and disconnect between school leaders [Editorial]

Tug-o-War
(No Source)

The discord between the county school board and superintendent that has been simmering below the surface for months is moving into the slow boil stage once again.

At a hearing earlier this week on the county's budget for schools, about three dozen people rallied outside in the rain, hoisting signs that made it clear that their confidence in Superintendent Renee Foose has evaporated: "Cut Foose Loose." "Bye Bye Bully."

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The county teachers union's latest survey of its members put numbers behind the sentiment. When asked this year whether they have "confidence in the leadership" of the superintendent, only 11 percent agreed. The response is in stark contrast to a 2012-2013 survey, Foose's first year and typically the honeymoon period, when 74 percent expressed confidence.

Five months later, the superintendent and school board are locked in a costly lawsuit. The rivals have reached an impasse over nearly $150,000 in heavily redacted legal bills. And the escalating tension has widened a rift between central office staff and elected board members in Howard County.

The same union survey of some 3,000 members showed an increase in confidence for the leadership of the school board, which has fresh faces following last fall's election. It's fair to say some of the new members want Foose out and the voters put them into the seats to force a change.

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All of this is playing out as a judge considers a lawsuit filed by the superintendent claiming the new school board is usurping her power and handcuffing her ability to carry out her responsibilities and after a failed attempt to change state law so the school board could fire a superintendent. (Current law permits only the state superintendent to terminate a county superintendent.)

The erosion of confidence and the dysfunction between the superintendent and school board won't go away if the parties continue to refuse to budge and reconcile differences. The gains that Foose has made in sustaining and improving a quality school district are at risk without a resolution.

Amid the discord, the question has to be raised: Has Foose's ability to lead been damaged beyond repair? It's a question only she can answer by her actions and deeds. Real leadership involves compromise.



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