Superintendent Foose retires from Howard County public schools

Board names interim replacment

Bryan P. Sears//May 2, 2017

Superintendent Foose retires from Howard County public schools

Board names interim replacment

By Bryan P. Sears

//May 2, 2017

Dr. Renee Foose. (File)
Dr. Renee Foose. (File)

The Howard County school board on Tuesday announced the retirement of embattled Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose and named an interim replacement.

That announcement came after a 4 p.m. meeting of the Howard County Board of Education. The meeting was the third such closed-door meeting since Monday morning, including at least one at the George Howard Government Office Building that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to multiple sources who requested confidentiality because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Cynthia L. Vaillancourt, chair of the school board, described the parting in terms of a divorce.

“Sometimes couples grow apart,” Vaillancourt said.

As with some divorces, the board and Foose were ultimately able to reach an agreement with help of a mediator — Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, a lawyer and mediator.

Kittleman initially offered to help the two parties reach a resolution earlier this year and he was present at a nearly eight-hour meeting at the George Howard county government office building that ran until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“I met with them together once then individually and then with attorneys after that,” Kittleman said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m pleased with the way the superintendent and the board of education came together to do what is best for the students of Howard County.”

Foose, who is in the first year of her second four-year contract with the Howard County Schools system, was first hired in 2012. Her current contract is valued at $273,000 annually.

Replacing Foose for the immediate future is Michael J. Martirano, who will serve as acting superintendent at least until June 30.

Martirano, who raised three children in Howard County, was most recently the state schools superintendent in West Virginia, a position he has held since 2014. He announced in March that he would step down from the job at the end of the school year. The decision was said to be mutual between Martirano and the state school board, according to an Associated Press report.

Prior to the West Virginia post, Martirano served more than nine years as the superintendent of the St. Mary’s County Public Schools system.

Contentious relationship

The board and Foose had grown apart over the direction of the 55,000-student school district. Following the 2016 election, the newly elected school board set out to reverse course on many of Foose’s policies in response to parent concerns, Vaillancourt said.

“We had a plan, we were, I thought, very clear in our communications,” Vaillancourt said. “We didn’t agree, and that disagreement was apparently intractable and it was just the best thing for the school system. I’m grateful that she has decided that we’re going to put the school system above egos and other considerations and move forward. I think we’re going to be alright.”

Foose was not present at Tuesday’s meeting. Her name plate in the board room had been removed.

“I want to express my gratitude to the teachers, administrators and staff of the Howard County Public School System for their incredibly dedicated work during my five years as Superintendent,” Foose said in an emailed statement. “Howard County is the #1 school system in the state of Maryland and one of the top school systems in the country, because of your leadership and commitment.  I want to thank the students in the Howard County Public School System and their families for your strong support of our public schools.  I also want to thank the public officials in Howard County who supported my tenure as superintendent and supported continued excellence in the Howard County Public School System.  I am proud of my service to the Howard County Public School System and have every expectation that the commitment to excellence in our public schools will continue in the future.”

Foose’s lawsuit

Rumors of Foose’s departure picked up steam last week after the Maryland State Board of Education ordered Foose to recuse herself from a vote to approve a contract with Saul Ewing LLP to represent the board in a lawsuit filed by the superintendent.

Foose filed suit in January accusing a newly sworn-in school board of undermining her authority. Foose claimed 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.

Vaillancourt said Tuesday night that the lawsuit filed against the board is expected to be withdrawn.

Foose presided over the school system at a time when it was widely acknowledged to be one of the best in the nation. Her admirers had praised her commitment to addressing racial disparities in the district and to improving and broadening the curriculum.

But her critics said she was inaccessible and combative. Parents who were attempting to get information about the extent of a mold problem at district schools and about other issues said the district, under her leadership, stonewalled their efforts to get answers.

The legislature took the almost unprecedented step in 2016 of directing the state’s new public access ombudswoman to investigate how public records requests were handled by the district. Her report said the district delayed, denied and otherwise made it difficult for some residents to obtain documents and data under the Maryland Public Information Act.

Martirano’s background

In comments to reporters Tuesday, Martirano described himself as a teacher.

“I’m honored and privileged to serve in this capacity as we think about the focus of all our children in the school system,” Martirano said. “Every day I wake up with the understanding that there is a child in need who needs our support. With the guidance of the policy makers, our elected officials, and all of our teachers, I know that we can make a difference.”

Details of Martirano’s contract were still being negotiated but his salary is expected to be commensurate with what Foose was paid under her current contract, according to Vaillancourt.

A process for selecting a permanent replacement has not yet been established. Under state law, superintendents must be given a four-year contract that must begin on July 1. It is unlikely that a permanent replacement will be selected in time for the deadline this year. Instead, the board is expected to name an interim that would serve for the next year until a permanent replacement is found, Vaillancourt said.

Foose did not resign but instead retired, a distinction without much difference to parents and activists who had been expecting her departure for weeks.

Foose is officially on a leave of absence with full pay until her retirement is approved by the school system.

Details of her compensation were not available Tuesday night. Vaillancourt said the agreement could only be obtained under a Maryland Public Information Act request.

Staff writer Tim Curtis contributed to this story.



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