Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose is suing her own school board. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The superintendent of Howard County schools is suing her own school board, alleging board members have taken a series of illegal measures aimed at undermining her authority.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in Howard County Circuit Court, Superintendent Renee Foose outlined several ways in which she contends that board members have sought to "strip the superintendent of her lawful authority" since the newly elected board was sworn in last month.
Foose said the new board has engaged in conduct that is a "direct threat to the orderly administration of the school system," and created "chaos and uncertainty" in the system.
When the board was sworn in Dec. 5, the seven-member panel passed eight resolutions, including a move to give it responsibility over board staff, such as the board administrator, secretarial staff and internal auditor. Board members said the changes were made to increase transparency.
Resolutions passed by the board also prohibited Foose from communicating with counsel on legal matters and gave the board authority to control and fire specific employees.
Later that month, the board voted to enter into a contract with attorney Daniel Furman for $24,999 — $1 shy of the amount that requires a public, competitive bidding process — to serve as legal counsel to the board.
Foose declined to approve the contract, signed by board Chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt, deeming it invalid and illegitimate. School system contracts require approval of the superintendent.
Foose contends in her lawsuit that the contract would have given Furman unfettered access to student and personnel records, some of which not even the superintendent has access to.
She said Furman also would have had access to all staff meetings and confidential staff information.
In her lawsuit, she said she "determined that blanket access of these records would violate confidentiality laws, violate students' rights of privacy, and not serve any legitimate educational interest."
The lawsuit asks the court to uphold her decision to reject Furman's contract. It also asks the court to void the resolutions she deems unlawful and instruct the board not to exclude her from meetings she's legally required to attend.
Vaillancourt said Thursday she had not seen the complaint and declined to comment further.
Through a spokesman, Foose said in a statement: "The superintendent is hopeful that she and the Board can work together in their statutory defined roles to provide the best education for all Howard County students and their families."
The lawsuit comes after new school board members Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small and Mavis Ellis successfully ousted three incumbents in November, an election some candidates and observers — including the head of the teachers union — had characterized as a referendum on the superintendent's leadership.
Foose became superintendent of Howard County schools, a system with more than 53,000 students, in 2012. She was given a new $273,000, four-year contract early last year, despite efforts from some parents to block her reappointment.
The Howard public school system has been ranked among the highest in the nation for student achievement.