Recently, I had the opportunity to hear remarks from interim Superintendent for the Baltimore County School System, Verletta White, on two different occasions. Her message was disappointing and somewhat scary. Apparently, Ms. White lives in a fantasy world, disconnected from the real problems facing the Baltimore County educational system. The interim Superintendent kept referring to the system as a “premier education system.” Let us put the baloney through the grinder.
First of all, bullying, violence and a lack of discipline are a problem throughout the system. I constantly receive complaints about violent activities in the classrooms and on buses. Many of the Baltimore County delegates who were listening to Ms. White describe the discipline situation in the school system as rare and isolated were somewhat dumbfounded. Democrat and Republican delegates at the County Delegation meeting in Annapolis challenged White and pointed out discipline problems occurring in schools in their districts. It is a serious problem when the number one authority in the school system fails to recognize the 800 lb. gorilla problem in the classroom. Where is accountability in such situations?
I asked the interim Superintendent if she were continuing the Dallas Dance policy on school discipline. She replied with a resounding “Yes.” The reason for the question is that 4 years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder produced a memo on school discipline which he provided to all school superintendents in the United States. The Holder memo was not a law, executive order, rule or regulation. It was simply a memo suggesting that school systems should be “soft” on discipline because disadvantaged children need more understanding and less suspensions. Holder believed that disclosure of school problems would result in harming the systems’ image. Transparency was a bad thing, according to Holder. Dallas Dance accepted the Holder memo as law and imposed its ideas upon the Baltimore County educational system resulting in the current discipline nightmare. The acceptance of the Holder memo by Interim Superintendent Verletta White guarantees that the discipline problem will continue to grow. In many ways, White’s educational policies are simply an extension of Dance, almost a clone. Of course, she was Dance’s deputy.
A classic example of cover-up and growing discipline problems was revealed in a recent Fox 45 TV investigation by Project Baltimore. A whistleblower within the education system had revealed there were 322 violent incidents within a year in Baltimore County, a 35% increase. At first, Ms. White denied the existence of records that would confirm this allegation. Finally, after pressure, she admitted the results were accurate, including the use of firearms. I believe the Holder memo violates federal and state law regarding school discipline policies. I will be filing a complaint and requesting an investigation by the state education department in the near future.
Another major challenge facing the Baltimore County school system is the STAT program. This program is a digital laptop system placed in the hands of the 112,000 students,
beginning in Kindergarten. The laptops have already cost $275 million with annual funding of $60 million. The funding for this program would create 1200 teaching positions. Verletta White is a big fan of the STAT program as was Dallas Dance. Three percent of the computer devices have been broken, lost or stolen. This translates into thousands of hours of digital downtime for students, losing homework information and flying blind because the entire system is computer based. Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform reported that ¾ of the teachers surveyed indicated inappropriate use of the STAT computers was evident by students playing games and visiting unapproved websites. There is evidence STAT is hurting our students. PARCC, MAP and MSA scores have declined during the time of STAT usage.
Ann Miller, an at-large school board member, pointed out a large number of harmful reductions in education assets contributed to the costs of STAT and budget decisions. In her excellent piece, Miller points out there has been a reduction in the number of teachers through attrition, overuse of substitute teachers and reduction of bus drivers, even to the point of using re-tread tires on school buses. Bus capacity based on 3 to a seat instead of 2 is now the norm. There has been a reduction of assistant principals, tech teachers and less gifted and talented classes in elementary schools. This is not a “premier school system” as White claims. It is a system in crisis.
As I travel around the county, parents and community leaders make it clear they do not want this current school board to have the authority to appoint the permanent superintendent. Frankly, this is a lame duck school board with some of the members in a relationship with Dallas Dance era and all its problems. The extremely important decision of selecting the permanent superintendent should be placed in the hands of the newly elected school board that will take office in November. The new school board will be the group that will actually work with the Superintendent during the next 4 years. There is no practical need to rush this appointment at this time.
I maintain it is a top priority that the next Baltimore County Executive becomes thoroughly involved in education matters. Kevin Kaminetz and other County Executives have had a hands-off approach with the attitude that the Board and the Superintendent should dominate all educational policy in the county. The County Executive is elected to represent all of the citizens of Baltimore County and all of the children.
My “Excellence in Education” program will create citizen advisory boards in various venues including private education and job training. I will phase out Common Core and include as part of the curriculum increased civics, drug awareness, financial literacy, job training in K – 12 and Patriot programs for elementary schools. Kingsville Elementary has presented a Patriot Program for Children for several years and it has been a great success. I found this to be an excellent model for such a program for all schools.
Ms. White is wrong about the Baltimore County School system as being a premier school system. Since she cannot recognize the flaws and challenges in our system, I cannot support her as the next permanent Superintendent. We need a new leader who can pursue excellence, protect our children, connect closely with the community, promote accountability, and achieve success.