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Foose’s Contract Renewed, Government Changes Proposed

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A seeming cult of personality was on display Feb. 4 at the Howard County Board of Education. County Schools Superintendent Renee Foose signed an extension of her contract before a roomful of standing supporters chanting “Foose! Foose! Foose!”

The Board passed Foose’s request with a vote of 5-2 in favor. Board members Bess Altwerger and Cindy Vaillancourt cast the opposing votes and were defeated by an identical margin in their pre-vote motion to hold a preliminary discussion on the agenda item.

The board passed Foose’s request with a vote of 5-2, in favor. Board members Bess Altwerger and Cindy Vaillancourt cast the opposing votes and were defeated by an identical margin in their pre-vote motion to hold a preliminary discussion on the agenda item.

“A group of community members asked that we postpone the vote,” Vaillancourt informed the audience attending the event. “You see, it wasn’t even made possible to make the request. I’m afraid that has been status quo around here for a while.”

In explaining her opposing vote, Vaillancourt said she felt the board had abdicated its responsibilities for oversight and failed in its obligations to represent the community.

“The community does not feel respected or supported, from the parents to our local elected officials to our state-elected officials, up to the governor,” she said. “I don’t feel respected as a member of this community or as a member of this board of education.”

Altwerger added that she “cannot, and will not, overlook the deeply troubling problems that have resulted from, and have persisted throughout, Dr. Foose’s tenure.”

Both, however, pledged to support the superintendent in respect of the board’s vote.

School Budget

The board also approved the superintendent’s Operating Budget Request totaling $856.4 million for the 2016-17 school year in February. The requested amount represents an increase of $17.8 million over the superintendent’s original budget request.

“This is more than a recovery budget,” said Board Chair Christine O’Connor. “It is a commitment to our students and staff, and is what is needed to keep our community thriving.”

Funding earmarked for employee compensation was increased to a total of $26.8 million for negotiated salary increases, representing the equivalent of a one-step increase and a 2% cost of living increase for all staff members.

Funding was added to extend Pre-K–Grade 5 world language instruction into additional schools, and expand full-day pre-K for schools in Oakland Mills.

The board also added funding for nine new middle school technology teachers, the initial phase of a two-year plan to provide a technology teacher in every county middle school. A new coordinator of diversity and inclusion position was added to the budget to ensure a diverse workforce, inclusive curriculum and culturally proficient staff, the board noted in a release.

The board will submit its budget request to Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman by mid-March.

Government Reorg

The county executive submitted a legislative proposal in February to reorganize the executive branch of county government.

According to the proposal, certain functions currently performed by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) would move to the Department of Citizen Services (DCS), creating a new Office of Housing and Community Partnerships within DCS, and renaming DCS the Department of Community Resources and Services.

The legislation also proposes that the Office on Aging become the Office on Aging and Independence; the Office of Consumer Affairs would become the Office of Consumer Protection; the Office of Children Services would be renamed the Office of Children and Families; and the Advisory Board on Consumer Affairs would be renamed the Advisory Board on Consumer Protection.

Under the proposal, certain housing commission employees would remain members of the county retirement plan eligible for other post-employment benefits, and legal representation would be retained for the commission.

Kittleman withdrew his proposal to relocate the Office of Transportation to fall under the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ).

New Legislation

In other business, DPZ Deputy Director Clive Graham advocated that the Howard County Council amend an agreement between Central Maryland Regional Transit and the Center for Transportation and the Environment that governs assignment of an amended consulting agreement for the county’s electric bus project.

The county received a $3.7 million federal grant for the bus pilot project, but the grant was reassigned to the Maryland Transit Authority during the process of transitioning mass transit service to the Regional Transportation Agency.

“We’re hoping you’ll see these buses on test runs through Columbia before the end of 2016 and in full operation by 2017,” Graham said, explaining that the change is necessary to keep the project on track and on schedule.

The council heard testimony from citizens in favor of proposed Citizen Funded Campaign legislation sponsored by Councilman Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) and Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3). The bill would authorize an opt-in system for candidates who accept voluntary contribution limits to be eligible for limited public matching funds for small contributions.

Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) said he was “not opposed to the concept [based on] the way donors have been going, as far as the developers and how a particular group of two or three have funded the Democratic campaigns in this county and the zoning decisions that have been made around them.”

In February, the council unanimously passed legislation that limits the time of day that solicitors and peddlers may operate. It also unanimously passed an act temporarily prohibiting applications for proposed rezonings to BRX and BR zoning districts, finding that such applications could lead to development incompatible with surrounding residential uses.

The council approved the county’s Clean Energy Loan program and extended the high performance buildings tax credit until June 2018. Finally, it tabled legislation requesting a change to commercial density the CAC zoning district along Route 1 and also extended the life of legislation aimed at eliminating the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee and tabled the bill for further review and consideration.