Howard, Baltimore county schools were vying for same superintendent finalists

In 'unusual' process, Baltimore County selects Dallas Dance and Howard selects Renee Foose

March 27, 2012|By Liz Bowie and Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

As the clock ticked toward midnight Monday, school boards in Howard and Baltimore County were scrambling to make job offers to their next superintendents.

The timing was not a coincidence. The school boards in the adjoining districts knew they were in an intense and unusual fight for the same finalists — S. Dallas Dance, a middle schools chief from Houston, and Renee Foose, the deputy superintendent in Baltimore County — and that they might have the same first choice.

School board leaders in both districts say they got their top candidate: Foose went to Howard and Dance went to Baltimore County, but the public may never know what happened behind closed doors.

"This is really unusual," said Terre Davis, who heads the Colorado-based superintendent search firm TD & Associates. Competitions between school districts for candidates are not uncommon, she said, but not at the same time in the same state.

Foose, 45, will become the first female superintendent in Howard. She has worked in Maryland public schools for the past two decades. After serving as associate superintendent for Montgomery County public schools, she was hired a year ago by Baltimore County for its No. 2 job. She also served as a principal in Montgomery and Washington counties. Her contract will be for four years; her salary has not been disclosed.

Dance, 30, presides over middle schools in a district with more than 200,000 students, the seventh-largest in the nation, with double the enrollment of Baltimore County. He has been in the job since March 2010. He also has experience in Virginia school districts. He will sign a four-year contract worth about $250,000 a year.

The superintendents, who are paid more than their county executives, will oversee budgets of $1 billion or more and tens of thousands of employees.

Races like these between districts are not unheard of, experts say, given the shallow pool of candidates for superintendent jobs. But the way this one concluded was different.

"It is not unusual that the same person would pop up in multiple school districts at the same time," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools. "What is a little unusual is that the pool of finalists would be identical at precisely the same time in a way that was so obvious to the public."

Usually in these cases, Casserly said, one candidate will have time to bow out before his or her name is made public.

Competition between counties

Each county school board had narrowed its field from dozens of applicants to two or three finalists by late last week. Baltimore County held a closed search, while Howard County announced its finalists, Dance and Foose, on Monday and invited the public to offer feedback at two events.

Both school board chairs said Tuesday that they knew their candidate lists overlapped. Chairwoman Sandra French said the Howard school board heard that Baltimore County was either interviewing or choosing its superintendent on Saturday. "Yet we believed very strongly in involving the community," French added. "Therefore, we set up Monday ... as the time for the finalists to meet the community."

In fact, Baltimore County's board did conditionally offer Dance the job Saturday. The problem was that Dance wasn't qualified to be a superintendent in Maryland because he only had two years of teaching experience; the state requires three. The Baltimore County board went to interim state Superintendent Bernard Sadusky and asked him to give them a waiver to hire Dance.

In the meantime, Howard County was concluding its search, and without a firm offer from Baltimore County, Dance continued to pursue the job in Howard.

Board member Allen Dyer said that during Monday afternoon's meet-and-greet event at the Howard County Board of Education offices, he had a casual conversation with Baltimore County school board member Mike Bowler, who along with others, had attended to check on how the two candidates would perform. Dyer said he brought up Baltimore County's superintendent search.

"We had received word, unconfirmed, thirdhand, hearsay, that both Dallas and Renee were also being considered by Baltimore County," Dyer said. "So I brought that up and asked whether they had made any decisions, and he said that they were still looking at candidates and that they would be meeting soon. I interpreted that as Tuesday. But he couldn't tell me exactly when because it was a secret process. He didn't give any specifics."

A couple of hours later, Schmidt received state approval to hire Dance. He called Dance in his hotel room at 11 p.m. and made him a formal offer, which he accepted.

French said the board chose Foose over Dance about midnight after weighing scores of questionnaire responses, blogs and email messages from residents. She said the board's decision was unanimous.

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