Amid criticism, Howard school board reappoints Foose as superintendent

The Howard County Board of Education has voted to reappoint Renee Foose as superintendent of the county’s schools amid ongoing criticism of her leadership from parents, educators and local elected officials.
The Howard County Board of Education has voted to reappoint Renee Foose as superintendent of the county’s schools amid ongoing criticism of her leadership from parents, educators and local elected officials. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

The Howard County Board of Education has voted to reappoint Renee Foose as superintendent of the county's schools amid ongoing criticism of her leadership from parents, educators and local elected officials.

A petition urging school board members not to renew her contract collected more than 1,500 signatures last month, citing the need for a new superintendent who will operate with transparency, accountability and responsiveness.


"I believe the system would thrive moreso under someone who managed with a style more respectful to teachers and staff, and more responsive to parent and community concerns," said Lisa Markovitz, a petition co-sponsor and president of The People's Voice, a local civic organization.

Critics call for the ouster of Superintendent Renee Foose.

But dozens of school system staff members cheered the 5-2 vote to renew the superintendent's four-year contract Thursday, chanting "Foose! Foose! Foose!"


Board members who voted in favor of Foose's reappointment praised her focus on students, especially those who are underserved.

"The kids are more important to me than the people who are adults and who are complaining," said board member Ann De Lacy. "When I go to a meeting or I go some place, they're not talking about Foose; they're talking about the issues that they encounter with their children. And that's why my vote is for you, because I have such strong confidence in you and your leadership."

School officials did not release terms of the superintendent's new contract, but board member Cindy Vaillancourt said Foose would make $273,000 a year. She has made $250,000 annually in the contract that expires in June.

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.

The highest-paid superintendents in the state are those in Prince George's County and Baltimore City, who each earned $290,000 in 2015. Those school systems enroll 128,936 and 84,976 students, respectively. Approximately 53,637 students are enrolled in Howard County schools this year.

After signing her new contract, Foose thanked her staff for making the school system "even better" than it was three years ago.

"There have been a lot of negative things that have gone on," she said. "But you have done exactly what I've asked you to do all this time. Keep your eye on what is most important. Keep your eye on our students, because that is why you're here."

Board member Vaillancourt attempted to introduce a motion to discuss Foose's contract before the vote, but it was rejected by a majority of the board.

After the vote, she and fellow member Bess Altwerger said they did not support renewing Fosse's contract because of what Altwerger called a "serious breach of public trust in the school system resulting from Dr. Foose's leadership."

"The tragedy is that there are and could be wonderful things happening in this school system because our superintendent's skill set is tremendous and she could be doing all kinds of wonderful work, but we are not doing it in a manner that I think is bringing pride to Howard County citizens, students and staff," Vaillancourt said. She was interrupted a number of times by a school system staff member in the audience, as well as board chairwoman Christine O'Connor, who said that Vaillancourt was "crossing a line."

Altwerger referenced the concern that dozens of parents and educators voiced at a December town hall meeting, that the current school system leadership operates without openness and responsiveness. Next week, the state's delegation to Annapolis will vote on a bill, sponsored by Del. Warren Miller, a Woodbine Republican, that would place the school system under strict guidelines designed to enforce compliance with public information rules.

Parent complaints alleging the Howard County school system's lack of openness and responsiveness to parents and educators dominated an education town hall meeting hosted by elected officials on Tuesday night.

"A lack of transparency, principals being lap dogs to administration, board members being too cozy with superintendent...it all smells," parent Sue Faustino said at the December meeting, which was hosted by Miller and Del. Frank Turner. "And that smell is not mold."

Foose has been criticized by parents, county officials and, most recently, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, for the school system's lack of communication about mold issues at Glenwood Middle School and other county schools.


"There's a palpable loss of trust between many parents and the county school system," Hogan said at a Jan. 27 state Board of Public Works meeting, "and in particular with the superintendent."

Foose has maintained that she did not immediately communicate mold issues to the school community because central office does not regularly notify parents about maintenance problems. She also told Hogan that the school system solved the problem by installing a new, $3 million ventilation and air conditioning system at Glenwood Middle last summer.

Criticism of Foose's leadership continued this week after she asked parents not to share the video of a Mount Hebron High School senior disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement and African-Americans, saying that students didn't need to be exposed to it.

Several students said they felt that the superintendent was trying to brush the problem aside.

"That's just throwing it under the rug and letting it happen," said Justin Johnson, a senior at Mount Hebron. "If we're not going to allow the community to see that, then how are we going to solve the problem?"

Howard County is consistently among Maryland's highest ranking school systems. Foose, the first female superintendent for the school system, came to Howard in 2012 after serving various roles in school systems in Baltimore and Montgomery counties.

She's the second local superintendent to see a contract renewal this week. On Tuesday, the Baltimore County school board approved a new four-year pact with Superintendent Dallas Dance.

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