UPDATE – 11:30 p.m. – School Superintendent Joshua Starr, who was hired to run the 154,000 student system in 2011, currently lacks the necessary majority of the county Board of Education to secure a four-year renewal of his contract, sources told Bethesda Beat Tuesday night.
By state law, Starr must inform the board by Feb. 1 if he wants to pursue a renewal of his contract, with the board then having until March 1 to render a decision. While Starr’s next step remained unclear late Tuesday, sources said Starr allies have reached out in recent days to a number of influential figures in the county, in an apparent effort to turn a majority of the board in Starr’s favor.
While most school board members have declined to comment publicly on the situation in recent days, knowledgeable sources indicated that four board members – Judith Docca (District 1), Michael Durso (District 5), Jill Ortman-Fouse (at-large), and Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) – are prepared to vote against granting Starr a second four-year contract.
While no vote has been taken on the matter, these members are said to be firm in their position. A closed meeting of the full board to discuss personnel matters, originally slated for Tuesday, has been rescheduled for Wednesday.
The news of Starr’s precarious position was first reported by The Washington Post in an editorial Tuesday evening on the newspaper’s website. Citing sources, the Post editorial says that Starr “has been advised to pursue not renewal but rather conditions for his departure.”
Board President Patricia O’Neill (District 3) and board member Christopher Barclay were quoted in the Gazette newspapers last week as saying they were prepared to vote to give Starr another term. Also said to be in Starr’s camp is at-large member Philip Kauffman and the student member of the board, Dahlia Huh, a senior at Clarksburg High School. If this breakdown holds up, it would produce a 4-4 tie vote – short of the bare majority needed to renew Starr’s contract.
In an episode that clearly upset some Montgomery County board members, Starr allowed himself to be considered for the chancellor of New York City public schools in 2013. The job went to another candidate.
But what ultimately may be the biggest factor in Starr’s loss of support is the sense among some board members that action to address well-defined problems was too slow in coming.
“Dr. Starr went on a yearlong listening tour that we were told would help him assess the state of the MCPS instructional program. However, it is unclear what he learned and what he’s done in response to his learning,” Jeanette Dixon, a former high school and middle school principal in the Montgomery County school system, said in an open letter last week. Her letter reflected some of the private criticism leveled at Starr from within the Board of Education in recent months.
In a statement released in reaction to the Post editorial, O’Neill said “As is our statutory responsibility, the Board is discussing the renewal of the Superintendent’s contract. Because this is a personnel matter, these deliberations are confidential."