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Baltimore County schools chief fights back

John Lee
Darryl Williams is the superintendent of Baltimore County Schools.

The Baltimore County School Board is meeting in a special closed session Monday night. School board members are mum about the topic of the meeting but it is happening after School Superintendent Darryl Williams was heavily criticized by Baltimore County council leaders.

Over the weekend Williams released a letter defending himself from charges made by members of the Baltimore County Council that his leadership is ineffective and that he is not communicating with them about the school system.

Williams said the council members are conducting “counterproductive political dialogue” during an election year.

In his letter to the County Council, Williams fought back on the allegation that he was not keeping members informed, even though the council signs off each year on more than $2 billion in spending on the school system.

“During my tenure, I have conducted 15 meetings with the entire County Council or individual members,” Williams wrote.

“Additionally, we have written nine letters to the County Council to address questions and provide updates on system progress. To my knowledge, no question has gone unanswered, no meeting has been declined.”

Williams also pushed back on council members who said he was not doing enough to address a chronic problem of late school buses.

“A review of local driver shortages in Maryland indicates that many large school districts continue to have difficulty with recruitment of additional drivers.” Williams wrote. “Specifically, Prince Georges County, Howard County, and Baltimore County continue to have more than 75 vacancies.”

Williams said they are doing several things to improve transportation, such as recruiting and retaining staff while upgrading software to make bus routes more efficient.

Williams also defended his record on how he is dealing with a teacher shortage and discipline in schools.

Council members who have been critical of Williams are unmoved by his letter.

“The buck needs to stop with Dr. Williams,” wrote Democrat Tom Quirk in a text. “The majority of the council would like to see focused leadership with the urgency of now.”

“I take great exception to the assertion that this is political,” Republican Councilman David Marks said in a text. “There should be a thorough search to consider many candidates, not just the superintendent.”

Quirk, Marks and three other members of the seven member council wrote a blistering letter to school board Chair Julie Henn last week, saying they had lost confidence in Williams. They pushed for a nationwide search for a possible replacement.

Republicans Wade Kach and Todd Crandell, and Democrat Cathy Bevins joined Quirk and Marks in signing the letter.

Democratic Council members Julian Jones and Izzy Patoka did not sign.

“Over the past few years we have been far from normal,” said Patoka last week. “I thought for Dr. Williams that we need to give him a chance to gain some continuity under a more normal post-pandemic world.

“There were so many stops and starts over the past few years, it was uncharted territory for all of us.”

In a statement, County Executive Johnny Olszewski said, the County Council has raised legitimate concerns about the school system that need to be addressed. But he did not weigh in on Williams’ future.

“The hiring and oversight of a superintendent is the most important responsibility of the Board of Education, and I trust the Board will act in the best interests of our students and families in deciding on whether to begin a search for this role,” Olszewski wrote.

On July 1, Williams will begin the last year of his four year contract.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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