Some candidates running for the three open seats on Howard County's school board said the Board of Education lacked openness in its decision this week to select Renee Foose, deputy superintendent in Baltimore County, as the new superintendent of Howard County schools.
That contention was supported by at least one member of the current school board.
“I am very pleased with the candidate we ended up with,” said incumbent Allen Dyer. “However, the process was fatally flawed."
School board candidate Ann De Lacy agreed during a forum hosted by the Greater Elkridge Community Association on Wednesday. "I do have a problem with the transparency," she said.
De Lacy and some of the 12 other school board candidates at the forum expressed concern that a “meet and greet” with two superintendent finalists, billed as an opportunity for public input on Monday evening, was promptly followed by the announcement of the new superintendent Tuesday morning.
“Honestly, I was a little surprised that by Tuesday morning, a decision had been made,” said school board candidate David Gertler.
After the current superintendent announced his departure last spring, the school board commissioned an Iowa-based firm, Ray and Associates, to sort through candidates between December and March. The firm presented the board with a list of candidates, whom board members then interviewed and whittled down to two; after presenting those two publicly on March 26, the board announced its decision on March 27.
"We have to do a better job in communicating," said school board hopeful Jackie Scott. "We need to be transparent about the process and be clear about how we’re really going to take the input."
Dyer said that he was uncomfortable with the secrecy surrounding the search.
"I felt like I was covered with slime participating in the last part," said Dyer, who told Patch that in recent weeks school board members interviewed superintendent candidates across county lines, where they were instructed not to wear name tags.
“We spent time in no-tell motels and things like that interviewing these candidates," said Dyer.
Fellow incumbent Janet Siddiqui disagreed with Dyer and the other school board candidates that there was a problem.
“I think the process under the circumstances went very well and I’m very pleased,” said Siddiqui.
As far as transparency in the superintendent search, there was more public participation in the past, according to school board candidate Mary Jo Neil, who has served on the PTA for Maryland, Howard County and West Friendship Elementary School.
“Several years ago...we did actually have a little different process,” said Neil, referencing the 2000 search that resulted in the appointment of superintendent John O'Rourke. "We did have some more time to vet the candidate. I wish we had that opportunity this time."
Incumbent Ellen Flynn Giles defended the board's decision to move quickly.
“Our objective was to get the best candidate, not the one that was left over,” said Giles, speaking at the Elkridge forum in St. Augustine School.
“We knew that they were being pursued by five other districts, but we scheduled [a meet and greet] on Monday so we…would have a formal process with the public," said Giles.
Carl Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said that the only thing the board has to do in public is take a vote.
The board did not respond to Patch's inquiry as to when it would vote in public on the superintendent.
Smith, who helps facilitate school board searches for superintendents, said that often to get the best people for the job, confidentiality is required.
"These are high-profile positions and most of the people who come into these postitions are [already in high-profile jobs]," said Smith. "Until they're finalists, most want their names kept confidential. If you don’t provide that, quite frankly a lot of people will not apply."
Smith cited an instance in Oregon in which every candidate who had applied for the position of superintendent withdrew candidacy because a reporter leaked their names to the public. (The incident is detailed in this article from the American Association of School Administrators.)
During the Elkridge forum, Giles went into some of the logistics of selecting Howard County's superintendent position. “There were 58 people who applied," said Giles. "We scheduled interviews with 12 and interviewed nine because some didn’t come forward. We made our final decision by interviewing again who we thought our final two candidates were on Friday."
School board candidate Patricia Gordon said she felt positive about the process of selecting a new superintendent.
The firm conducting Howard County's search asked former board members, including Gordon—who served on the school board from 2000 to 2010—to help develop criteria for the superintendent position.
“They had teacher groups, they had parent groups, they had supervisor groups...to give input," said Gordon, "so they could focus on what they felt the people in Howard County really wanted."
Dyer and the majority of others familiar with Foose said they were satisfied with the outcome, but dissatisfied with how the school board got there.
Foose will move into her new job as superintendent for the Howard County Public School System July 1.
Howard County's current superintendent, Sydney Cousin, is stepping down when his contract expires in June, due to health problems.