Will Baltimore County Schools fail to meet its financial obligation to Hewlett-Packard?
Posted by Ann Costantino on 20th March 2018
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—– A column by Ann Costantino —–

Baltimore County Public Schools says it will not take ownership of the Hewlett-Packard (HP) devices school officials have told teachers will be removed from them, rendering them deviceless, unless a $140 million Daly Computer contract is voted through at the next board meeting.

Although officials say they have met their financial obligations by paying for the devices under the HP lease agreement, the school system says in an answer to board member questions that it did not choose a buyout option which will prevent taking ownership, thus taking control of the devices out of the school system’s hands.

“(T)here is a buyout option for leased equipment for the 2018-19 school year. That buyout option is offered by the leasing company, not Daly Computers.  The buyout would include: devices (Year 1 student/teachers/staff), carts, docking stations, and monitors at a cost of $782,171.  However, there would be significant operational costs associated with this option…”

But when answering about the current HP lease agreement which states interest in the devices (ownership) transfers from the lessor to the lessee at the end of the lease, assuming all lease payments have been made, the district says although it “has, currently, paid all ‘rent,’ it does not intend to pay ‘all other amounts due’ which means the devices must be returned.”

Yet, the school system fails to address how this works, exactly.

In 2014, under the leadership of former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, Baltimore County Public Schools unveiled its STAT program, which Dance announced eight months after he was hired to lead the school system.

Called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, the system rolled out its laptop-for-every student program in its first year by providing new HP Revolve laptop devices to all Baltimore County Public School teachers, and students in grades 1-3, in 10 elementary schools called “Lighthouse” schools.

2014 would mark the first year of four staggered 48-month leasing agreements.  The program, which has received multiple awards and recognition from technology vendor-backed organizations, has been equally criticized by national education experts and parents of children within the system whose growing concerns include too much screen time, student access to inappropriate websites, distraction in classes, and sub-par educational software.

On Friday, The Baltimore Post reported that Executive Director Ryan Imbriale, and other employees from the school system’s Department of Innovative Learning, informed teachers that unless a new $140 million Daly Computers contract comes through soon, devices that belong to teachers and students in 10 Lighthouse schools, who were among those to receive the devices four years ago, would be removed without replacement devices for next year.

In a March 12 email to an advisory group, Imbriale wrote, “Baltimore County Public Schools entered into a 7-year contract to lease devices in 2014. The contract provides four staggered four-year leases…If the Board of Education does not approve the new proposed contract, existing devices will be returned to the leasing company and new devices would not be issued for all BCPS teachers and students in Grades 1-3 at Lighthouse Schools.”

An employee of the school system told The Baltimore Post that Imbriale and employees from the Department of Innovative Learning “are making teachers think they will not have computers next year unless the contract is approved.”

During a March 6 Baltimore County school board meeting, Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association for Baltimore County– or TABCO – seems to have been told the same when she told the board, “If this contract is delayed, the teachers will not have the device in time and the master agreement will be broken. If the contract does not go forward at all, the teachers will have no devices to use next year because the current devices, which are leased, will have to be returned…”

After conferring with an attorney, three technologists, a CEO of a technology company and other professionals who all reviewed the HP contract, The Post published an article titled, Lease agreement reveals Balt. County schools will own laptops it says must be given back – and stat!

The Baltimore Post stands by the assertions made in the article.

The fate of the devices rests solely in the hands of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), and the assertions made by school system officials that HP will actively remove the devices from teachers and students is false.

Moreover, the school system contradicts itself in its explanation and cites additional agreements it has not made available to the public.

Nor did the school system respond to multiple requests by The Baltimore Post for clarification.

However, in response to increased pressure and scrutiny from members of the board, school system personnel have issued responses to board member questions which can be found here.

The responses specific to the lease terms, however, appear contradictory and do not fully address the questions posed by the board, the stakeholders nor The Post’s article.

  • Point 17 of the document points out that there is a buyout option in the lease agreement for $782,171, yet no details about the buyout terms nor any supporting lease terms are provided. The purported buyout option is for 16,700 devices and ancillary items that were part of the first four year lease which amount to roughly $46 per device.
  • Point 19 indicates that the devices in question will be returned to Daly Computers. This would imply that BCPS would have to own the laptops in order to give them to Daly for recycling.
  • Point 24 indicates that the devices will be returned to HP (a direct contradiction of points 19,30,32)
  • Point 30 indicates that BCPS will be giving the devices to Daly Computers in exchange for “no fair market value.” This seems rather absurd, considering the devices have a nominal market value of roughly $1 million. Also, this point again implies that BCPS will own the computers in order to give them to Daly Computers for free.
  • Point 32 again indicates that the devices will be given to Daly Computers.
  • Point 82 attempts to clarify the core issue of whether BCPS will own the devices at the end of the lease and states that BCPS will NOT pay “all other amounts due” to HP, yet fails to provide specific information on what “other amounts due” implies.

David Plymyer, a former county attorney for Anne Arundel who lives in Catonsville and who now writes on matters of law and local government in the Baltimore area, said of the school system’s response, “The information provided to the Board in Ms. White’s March 17th letter omits two important pieces of information, in my opinion.  The first is:  WHY does BCPS owe HP $721,171 under the financing agreement that BCPS would have to pay before owning the leased equipment outright?  Under the agreement, BCPS owns the equipment outright once the scheduled rent for the equipment and ‘all other amounts due under the Lease’ have been paid.  Where does the $721,171 come from, and why does BCPS owe it?”

“Technically,” Plymyer continued, “there is no ‘option’ for BCPS to exercise:  Full ownership of the equipment vests in BCPS as soon as it pays the rent for the specified period of time, generally 48 months, assuming that all other amounts due under the agreement have been paid by BCPS.  The ‘all other amounts due’ provision is a normal boilerplate requirement under a rent-to-own agreement.  The agreement does not specify any fixed amount (other than the scheduled rent) that has to be paid before full ownership occurs.”

“The second question is,” Plymyer said, “If $721,171 remains due under the agreement for the equipment at issue, is BCPS obligated to pay that amount regardless of whether it exercises what it refers to as the ‘buy out option’?  If BCPS owes the $721,171 regardless of whether it chooses to retain the equipment, then it would be a misrepresentation to list the $721,171 as a cost associated with the ‘buy out option.'”

Doubt that has been cast upon the school system is not unwarranted; and scrutiny of a $140 million contract in the wake of the former superintendent’s recent conviction for lying on his financial disclosure forms – which not only questioned Dance’s integrity, but actually proved he was deceptive – heightens the concern about the trajectory in which Dance intentionally pointed Baltimore County Public Schools.

Yet…

  • Lawmakers have squabbled over whether to take a deeper look and demand an audit, while others have taken a lead.
  • The House of Delegates voted against a bill brought by State Delegate Robin Grammer which would have required a special audit of Baltimore County Public Schools.
  • The state superintendent has failed to intervene, allowing an entire school system to remain in crisis for years.
  • Four members of Baltimore County’s education board, who are asking for transparency and accountability, are the outliers.
  • Board Chair Edward Gilliss doesn’t want to look back and assess missteps.
  • The school system organizes rallies to gain board favor.
  • Dance lied to reporters, lawmakers, the board, the ethics panel, to parents, teachers and students.
  • The Baltimore Post, on Monday, opened an ethics review against the school system’s own ethics department.
  • Requests by The Baltimore Post for BCPS’ disaggregated high school grade point average (GPA) data, collected under Dance’s leadership, brought a nearly $1,000 price tag, when so far half the state’s school districts have provided their GPA data to The Post at no charge.  None of the school systems have asked to be paid for students’ GPA data, except for Baltimore County.

All of this, yet 113,000 students, who were set on a path by a leader that even The Baltimore Sun called a “crook,” are to continue in a plane  – without question – that Dance said was being built as it flew?

Former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance – Photo Source: Screenshot from S. Dallas Dance’s LinkedIn Next Wave Promotional Video

Dance left a legacy when he left the system in June.  He left behind a culture of mistrust and an administration chock full of friends he imported from other school systems whose loyalty prevents objectivity and who traveled with him on his extracurricular excursions.  Is this why the independent audit is being resisted?

His reign brought with it division, damage and mistrust.  He divided people and communities, school leaders from parents, citizens against the media, the board against advocates, the board against its own sworn duties.

He marketed ideas.  He marketed plans.  More than anything, Dance marketed himself.

Dallas Dance marketed what he wanted us all to see and he fooled us all.

And he didn’t even want to be here.

When the $140 million Daly contract passes next meeting – and it will – Dance will have finally conquered to some degree, yes.  But he will also have divided.  And the culture he has left behind will continue.  A culture of mistrust in a system whose allegiance was to a man and his mission, instead of a community and its kids.

“This is not about technology; this is about teaching and learning,” Dance, Imbriale and other school system employees liked to say.  Similarly, asking for an objective look at the $140 million Daly and HP contracts is not a sign of being against it.

Video: Why Teachers Need to Embrace Technology in the Classroom from LinkedIn Editors' Picks

 

 

A column by Ann Costantino

Update: Baltimore County Public Schools’ Board of Education meeting which was scheduled for tonight (March 20, 2018), has been canceled due to inclement weather.

annc@thebaltimorepost.com