School board seeks liaison

26 applied to fill ombudsman's job, vacant 4 months

October 10, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

The Howard County Board of Education is in the midst of choosing an ombudsman, a position that has been vacant for the past four months.

A three-member committee of board members - Sandra H. French, Ellen Flynn Giles and Patricia Gordon - is combing through job applications submitted by 26 people.

The committee is charged with reducing the pool of applicants to seven. The full board then will interview the finalists and select the ombudsman, who serves as a liaison between the community and the school system in resolving complaints and conflicts.

The year-round job is part time, with an annual salary range of $30,240 to $54,084.

"The ombudsman can refer [parents, employees, community members] to the right people to help them answer their questions," French said. "They can guide them to policies and oftentimes set up meetings with the correct people to mediate solutions."

Candidates had to complete an application and submit a resume, letter of interest, copies of all transcripts, three references and a professional writing sample.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, the school board will set a new policy for the ombudsman, which will include an official performance evaluation - something that has been missing from the position.

"It makes us be more businesslike in our approach to employees," French said. "They deserve an evaluation for their own career advancement. It could be to their benefit."

None of the changes to the board's policy on the ombudsman is tied to the performance of the board's first ombudsman, Robin Shell, who resigned June 30 after more than two years on the job. She could not be reached for comment.

"As a new person coming into a new position, she did a good job," Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said.

Shell worked Monday through Thursday and earned $67,200 a year.

During her first year of service - Feb. 7, 2005, to March 31, 2006 - Shell resolved 130 cases. Of them, 36 percent concerned school administration; 14 percent involved student discipline; and parent concerns involving special education and bullying each made up 11 percent.

"It is a position that will help parents and the community to better communicate," Cousin said.

The ombudsman job is one of three positions directly chosen by the school board. The other two are the superintendent and the internal auditor.

The board created the position after the 2003-2004 school year, which included two grade-changing controversies and the departure of Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. Some believed having an ombudsman could have eased some of the tension during that period.

Shell was chosen for the position from a pool of 77 applicants.

A lawyer and mother of five from Prince George's County, Shell brought a wealth of experience to the position.

She had been a deputy general counsel for Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. and an associate at several law firms. She also worked as a volunteer ombudsman for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, where she helped resolve disputes between National Guard and Reserve members and their employers. She served as a volunteer mediator for the District Court of Maryland and for the Community Mediation Board for the Prince George's County Office of Community Relations.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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