Due diligence before renewing Foose's contract [Commentary]

Glenn Foden's editorial cartoons
(Glenn Foden)

Howard County's school board has about a month to decide whether Superintendent Renee Foose deserves a new four-year contract.

As the seven members deliberate, they'll need to delve into what's behind a petition — which claims more than 1,400 names — calling for her ouster.


In leading one of the state's 10 largest school systems, Foose has her work cut out.

Not only does she have to worry about providing a quality education in an affluent county with highly engaged parents, she has to improve test scores and standards, cope with a changing student mix that will require new and different services – and run the equivalent of a small city of 55,000 student constituents and its necessary building and transportation infrastructure.

At a meeting of the state Board of Public Works Wednesday, Governor Larry Hogan said that he and the other members of the board --; Comptroller Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp -- had received many "letters of concern" from parents, a school board member and state Del. Warren Miller about maintenance and mold issues in Howard County's public schools. Hogan and Franchot questioned Superintendent Renee Foose extensively about these concerns.

Critics have raised legitimate questions about transparency and accountability in the administration of this skydiving superintendent (yes, she drew a lot of fawning publicity a few years ago for jumping from a plane, much to the delight of students).

Atop the list of complaints is the bungled response to eradicating mold at Glenwood Middle School. Some parents remain exasperated by the dismantling of a citizens budget review committee, others object to eliminating a staff attorney in favor of hiring outside counsel and a few have alluded to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within the system that stifles constructive criticism.

The culture at many large institutions – corporations, schools, churches, nonprofits – reflects the leader, the chief executive officer. Effective leaders bring many skills into play every day – smarts, charisma, empathy, boundless energy, humility and passion. They're also good listeners.

An erosion in confidence, indicated by the petition asking that Foose's contract not be renewed, is a warning flag and the superintendent would be wise to hear her critics and provide responses without exhibiting a circle-the-wagons attitude at the central office.

Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose has told the school board that she is seeking renewal of her contract, school spokesman John White said. Board members must vote on approval of Foose's four-year contract and salary package by March 1, which expires in June. Foose's current contract, which expires in June, pays $250,000 a year.

While the school board is within its legal right to discuss personnel evaluations in a closed session, the public deserves opportunities to offer responsible comments before the March 1 deadline for a contract decision.

Continuity of leadership is important and bringing in a new superintendent, and the required on-the-job training, would be disruptive. So, too, would be letting problems with Foose's leadership – real or perceived – fester.