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Howard Co. schools chief ordered to recuse herself as board selects counsel in her lawsuit

Dr. Renee Foose (File photo)

Dr. Renee Foose (File photo)

Howard County Public Schools’ superintendent must recuse herself from contract approval for a law firm being hired to represent the Board of Education in her lawsuit against them.

The Maryland State Board of Education found Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose, who would normally approve a contract to engage legal counsel, has a personal, adverse interest in the matter because the contract is for representation of a party she is suing. The board recently contracted with Saul Ewing LLP.

Foose sued the board in Howard County Circuit Court in January, accusing its members of attempting to undermine her authority. She asked the court to void the board’s contract with a general counsel attorney as well as several resolutions passed by the board in December 2016.

The county board filed a petition for declaratory ruling with the state board and asserted that the general counsel attorney’s contract was not subject to Foose’s approval. Foose filed her own petition with the state board seeking multiple declaratory rulings. The state board did not resolve the dispute over that contract, but the issue arose again when the board retained Saul Ewing.

The contract for Saul Ewing was submitted to Foose but she did not approve it and “instead asked a multitude of questions about it,” according to the state board’s order. The board said it was clear that Foose must recuse herself from the matter.

“We urge the superintendent to be especially cognizant of the potential for conflict of interest in matters such as this,” the state board wrote it the order. “It is both a matter of ethics and integrity.”

Foose claims in her lawsuit that board members unlawfully directed the superintendent to not communicate with legal counsel, directed the counsel to illegally begin inspecting school records and unlawfully substituted the superintendent’s designee on the Howard County Budget Review Committee. She amended her complaint to include breach of contract and anticipatory breach of contract claims.

The state board found it had primary jurisdiction over the dispute in February and consolidated the proceedings before it with those in Howard County Circuit Court.

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