School administrative costs, public information practices draw backlash from Baltimore County lawmakers

County hired deputy superintendent at salary of $214,000 even as it cuts teaching positions

March 18, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Members of the Baltimore County delegation are demanding an explanation for the school system's spending on top-level administration and its policy of requiring written requests for salary information.

In a letter dated Friday, Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Del. John Olszewski Jr. criticized the school system's recent hiring of a deputy superintendent at an annual salary of $214,000 even as the proposed budget calls for cutting 196 teaching positions at middle and high schools.

"Leaving 200 teaching positions vacant will no doubt mean larger class sizes and it may also mean that many important and valuable educational programs will either be understaffed or non-existent," they said in the letter to school Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

They also called the salary of Renee Foose, who will begin her job as the county's deputy superintendent next month, "appalling to many Baltimore County residents."

In addition, they asked Hairston if he believed the manner in which Foose's salary was provided by his communications staff was appropriate.

Hairston had not received the letter Friday, so he could not comment, according to Phyllis Reese, spokeswoman for the school system.

Foose's annual salary of $214,000 was first published in The Baltimore Sun on Friday, about a month after the information was originally requested by the newspaper. The Sun was informed by Reese that a written request had to be filed to obtain Foose's salary.

Salaries for government employees in Maryland are public information under state law, and school officials in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and other area municipalities typically disclose them immediately over the phone.

Klausmeier and Olszewski wrote, "As a taxpayer funded agency, Baltimore County Public Schools has a responsibility to the people to respond to requests for information in a timely, useful, and respectful manner."

Their letter came on the heels of an email earlier in the week from Del. Dan Morhaim, also a Baltimore County lawmaker and the chairman of the state's subcommittee overseeing access to public information. In the email to Hairston, Morhaim asked Baltimore County school officials to explain their policy of requiring written requests for salary information.

According to the email, Morhaim asked that county school officials "please send a copy of any policy(ies) the BCPS has about releasing information of this type or any other" after another media outlet, Patch.com, was also told that it had to follow the same procedure.

Morhaim cited his work on the government operations subcommittee, which oversees public information and open meetings, urging the county to grant pending salary information requests to the media.

"It has been our commitment to create greater transparency and information about government operations to the public, and this has been reflected in the legislation the committee has enacted," he wrote. "I hope you agree with this approach."

Addressing the email sent by Morhaim, Reese said that requiring written requests was not a written policy but "a procedure we follow when anyone makes a request for information to make sure we have them documented."

Foose's salary was provided Wednesday along with other school system officials' salaries requested by The Sun under the Maryland Public Information Act. The delay, Reese said, was because "our small law office had to go through 17,000 names to retrieve the answer to the Sunpapers' request."

"We've never had any problem with people requesting information, and we've given that information in a timely manner," Reese said. "The Baltimore County public school system is extremely transparent — and if he would like that information, I would be more than happy to submit it to the delegate."

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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