Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

management by crisis – again

Posted by bsflag2007 on Sunday, January 21, 2007

What a disappointment.   Not a surprise – but a disappointment nevertheless.

The Howard County Board of Education has been busy make decisions to not make decisions – to put of til tomorrow what is not in crisis today.

For reasons that are not entirely without logic – local Boards of Education are not empowered to “fire” the superintendents they “hire”.    The idea is to keep crazy dysfunctional boards from creating perpetual havoc  – one only has to look to our neighbors to the north (Pennsylvania) and the recent creationism fiasco to see why it is a good idea to provide some checks and balances.

On the other hand — the current situation gives a sitting superintendent a little too much autonomy, and places a too stringent burden on the employer (the local BOE and the citizens) to respond to an individual employee (superintendent or not) run amok.  We only have to look to our own experience with John O’Rourke for evidence of how the pendulum swings in the other direction.

When it bacame clear that Mr. ORourke needed to be “let go” and we realized  the existing state level regulations  tied the hands of the local BOE in ways that were detrimental to the ability of the elected oversight body to effectively resolve a downwardly spiralling situation  –  efforts to revise the existing laws to give better balance to the “checks and balances” were begun.

Of course, these things take a long time, and are not effective for the resolution to a crisis situation.  The original crisis was resolved at significant delay and financial expense.  But the problematic regulations are still in place – waiting for the next time they impede the speedy resolution of a local problem.

In spite of support from our state delegation to advance the efforts to provide future Boards of Education with the additional “tools in the toolbox” which might be helpful not only in the event of a crisis – but which simply by being available would likely divert the kind of crisis we had here in HoCo with O’Rourke – our new BOE has made the “puzzling” decision to withdraw its’ support for the legislation to modify the existing policy.

Diane Mikulis said “Right now, it could be helpful to us in the future, but it’s not something we need in Howard County, we’re perfectly happy with our superintendent.”

Pat Gordon “questioned the relevance of the bill today” (The View).

Excuse me — it is either a wise modification or it is not.  It is not a question of whether it is needed  right now.
It is foolhardy to wait until  a crisis is at hand – and then try to fix a legislative flaw.

Should the local Board of Education – the elected oversight committee for the largest publicly financed operation in the county – have the authority to make hiring and firing decisions (within the context of reasonable employment and contract laws) for its’ sole employee, the Superintendent?

The short answer is yes.

There are plenty of other safeguards to make sure the BOE does not run amok and willy nilly fire an effective contractual employee without cause.

But there are really no effective safeguards for the citizenry and the elected officials to respond when this individual employee  runs amok.

But since we are not currently in crisis – our BOE has decided to retract its’ support for the efforts taken up during the last crisis.  Apparently it is their plan to wait until “we need it” or it is immediately “relevant”.

Management by Crisis — what a fabulous idea.

It always works so effectively, and is cost effective as well.

What a disappointment.

But there are more disappointments to come from BOE.  While Mr. Ulman ponders his “diversity candidate” – maybe he could look more toward a diversity in skills, experience, abilities, and philosophies instead of focusing on skin color or ethnicity alone.

Cindy Vaillancourt

Cindy Vaillancourt


7 Responses to “management by crisis – again”

  1. CW said

    I believe this Board, under perceived pressure to take a position on state bills so that testimony could be given at last week’s hearing, acted in haste and did not fully consider the critical need for this bill. Only one Board member, Frank Aquino, was in favor of the bill.

    It is my hope that the BOE will reconsider their decision, as they have a willing sponsor in Delegate Frank Turner. I phoned the current Chairman and encouraged her to have the BOE reconsider the issue. My position is also supported by former BOE member, Mary Kay Sigaty.

    As the Chairman of the Board at the time of the contract nonrenewal of O’Rourke, I can say without a doubt that this is a critically important bill for Howard County. Those of you that agree might take a moment to encourage the current BOE to reconsider their decision and work to protect local control of the terms of separation for a superintendent. You can reach the current BOE at

    The fact that the current superintendent, by all accounts, is serving us extremely well, is not the point. The point is that we never, ever, EVER, want the school system to be in the position of being held hostage by a terminated superintendent. Support the legislation and be safe, not sorry.

    Courtney Watson

  2. Don M said

    Not sure what is going on at the BOE but after reading – Truancy, contract bills stall It sounds like the BOE is not communicating with legislators at all.

    I would hope diversity is not the overriding concern for choosing the BOE appointee. It is pretty obvious that other business skills like communication and teamwork are badly needed.

  3. bsflag2007 said

    Actually, the truancy court “miscommunication” sounds a lot more like another flub from Mark Blom – the HCPSS/BOE lawyer who appears to have once again done a song and dance for the BOE which did not completely line up with the actual “situation on the ground” —- than a lack of communication between the BOE and the delegation.

    The BOE has to be able to “trust” that its advisors are giving them full, accurate, and supportable advice and guidance.

    The truancy court episode is pretty clear evidence that the BOE cannot take what Mr. Blom represents to them at face value. And, if that is the case…. what does he bring to the table other than embarrassing “miscommunications”, losing (and embarrassing) litigations, and costly contract advice?

    Cindy Vaillancourt

  4. Cindy,

    Great post. I hope Courtney is correct and the BOE revisits this issue. However, I don’t think that their support is needed for this measure. The State Assembly can move forward without them. It may look odd, but they should do it.


  5. bsflag2007 said

    Thanks, David.

    I agree the delegation ought to consider going forward with the measure they have already put together – with or without the official support of the majority.

    I suspect Mrs. Watson’s wording “perceived pressure” is right on – and I would like folks to question where that “perceived pressure” came from.

    Shouldn’t the BOE have advice and guidance for these kinds of issues that is reliable and does not end up with action being taken based on “perceived pressure” instead of well prepared and factually accurate arguments and facts?

    I don’t think it is an accident that the lone supporter of proceeding with the bill was Frank Aquino – a lawyer and experienced business person – an individual with the confidence to act on his own logic and experience in spite of some kind of “advice” to withdraw.

    Cindy Vaillancourt

  6. Joshua Kaufman said

    I would like to point out the role that Delegate Frank Turner has played. This was the third year in a row that he agreed to sponsor this legislation on behalf of the BOE. Two years ago we introduced it as a state-wide bill that was defeated in large part due to the opposition of the State Department of Education who currently has authority over superintendent termination as was not inclined to change the status quo. Last year the BOE asked Delegate Turner to sponsor the same bill, but as a local measure that would only apply to HoCo. Once again he put in a lot of time walking the bill through. Unfortunately, it died in committee (which is very rare for local bills), because the MSDE again opposed the bill – this time because it would create a “bad precedent.”

    This year Frank was again willing to sponsor this much-needed legislation. I think he handled the BOE’s decision with a lot of graciousness. I too hope the BOE reconsiders, as I am sure that Frank will once again do the right thing for HoCo.

  7. bsflag2007 said

    I’d like to thank Courtney Watson and Josh Kaufman for sharing their information and perspectives on this topic.

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