—– By: Ann Costantino —–
In an unexpected move last week, Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon declined to approve Baltimore County Schools’ interim Superintendent Verletta White as the district’s next permanent superintendent.
It was an upset to some politicians who took to social media and the airwaves to express their grievances.
While the move triggered praise from some officials, others criticized Ms. Salmon and the state board for what those elected officials are calling an overreach by a state level official into local business.
Yet, as some politicians expressed their discontent with the state superintendent’s decision to decline Ms. White’s permanent appointment, a lack of understanding about Maryland law may actually be perpetuating a falsehood.
Maryland law requires that the state superintendent approve all county school superintendents. The law states that “The appointment of a county superintendent is not valid unless approved in writing by the State Superintendent. If the State Superintendent disapproves an appointment, he shall give his reasons for disapproval in writing to the county board.”
State Superintendent Salmon cited two reasons when she declined Ms. White’s appointment last week – one for ethics violations related to failing to disclose income earned as a consultant for education consulting firm, the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), and the other for a failure to either initiate or complete an audit on procurement practices and technology contracts which Ms. White advocated for the school system to control in lieu of a state-level external audit.
The audit proposed would have included contracts and procurement that occurred under former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance’s tenure; however, some of the same decision-makers are still in place under Ms. White’s administration.
Mr. Dance is currently serving a six month jail sentence for perjury charges he pleaded guilty to in March when he failed to disclose on legal statements roughly $147,000 in income he earned consulting for other school systems and companies, including ERDI and defunct education consulting firm, The SUPES Academy.
Mr. Dance left the school system at the end of June. Ms. White has been serving as the school system’s interim superintendent since July 1.
Last month, Baltimore County’s school board voted 8-4 to hire Ms. White as the system’s permanent superintendent. However, the majority of the board had also voted at an earlier meeting to hire a search firm to conduct a national search for the district’s next superintendent. Despite that vote, the school system failed to execute the contract in the weeks leading up to the board’s vote to appoint Ms. White.
In response to the process that led to Ms. White’s appointment, dozens of concerned citizens and some county board members wrote letters to the Maryland State Department of Education, asking the state superintendent to either disapprove of Ms. White’s permanent placement or to approve an additional interim year for her, which would allow the new board of education – which will to be seated in December — to select the system’s next permanent superintendent.
However, some in support of Ms. White are blaming either politics or a loud minority who caught the attention of the state superintendent, influencing her decision not to approve the permanent position.
In response to the state superintendent’s decision, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz released a statement last week. Mr. Kamanetz, a Democrat running for governor, said the culprit behind the state superintendent’s decision is current Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
“Larry Hogan has a troubling pattern of playing politics at the expense of children’s education. He’s created turmoil over the school calendar and the school construction process. Now he directs his schools chief to take the unprecedented step to overturn the judgment of the local school board who knows Superintendent White best. He’s shameless!”
Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian Jones held a press conference last week in which he called Ms. Salmon’s decision, “disrespectful, egregious and outrageous.” The councilman said, “We are outraged by the decision that was made. We don’t appreciate it and think it is disrespectful to the citizens of Baltimore County.” He continued, “We only have one school board, whether you appreciate that or not.”
State Delegate Pat Young, who also spoke at the press conference said, “We have been lacking continuity. The appointment of Dr. White [SIC] would have provided longstanding needed professionalism as well as experience in Baltimore County Schools. The board felt that way, the locals felt that way, but instead the state decided to step in, in a year-long process, and just decided unilaterally that it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
State Delegate Stephen Lafferty said, “I am displeased that she (Salmon) did not give credence to the local school board.”
State Delegate Adrianne Jones said at the press conference, “We got zinged last week.” She said, “Some of you in the press said it’s a divided school board. No, the majority of the board voted for her to become the permanent superintendent – eight to four – and because the dissenters didn’t get their way, they are trying to have a turnaround. That’s not the way it works. This is America, and you go by majority rules.”
Yet, although it would have required a majority of Baltimore County school board members to approve Ms. White in order for her to have even been considered by the state superintendent, some supporters see the Baltimore County school board’s approval as the factor upon which State Superintendent Salmon should have based her decision to also approve Ms. White.
In other words, in order for Ms. White to have been approved or denied as the county’s next superintendent by the state superintendent, the majority of the local board would have had to approve her in the first place – which they did.
According to a letter from Ms. Salmon to Baltimore County School Board Chairman Ed Gilliss last week, Ms. Salmon denied the request to approve Ms. White on factors not dealing with Ms. White’s support or lack thereof, but on the ethical violations and an incomplete audit.
Tom DeHart, the president of CASE, the association that represents Baltimore County school principals, assistant principals and pupil personnel workers, is organizing a trip to the May 22 state board meeting to demonstrate the support for Ms. White he says exists among his members.
Mr. DeHart says the roughly 100 letters sent to the state superintendent which opposed Ms. White’s approval are not reflective of the members he represents, which also include the Association of Elementary Schools Administrators (AESA) and the Secondary Schools Administrators (SSA).
In a survey sent out to members and eligible CASE members last week, Mr. DeHart said that at least 60% of CASE’s 489 members and 86 eligible members who were surveyed responded to the anonymous survey; and of those 60% of respondents, 90% responded favorably to Ms. White’s permanent placement.
Ordinarily, he said, only about 30% of those surveyed respond which is an indication of members’ feelings about this particular issue.
Mr. DeHart wants the state superintendent to see the support that Ms. White has in numbers. In an email sent to existing and eligible CASE members, titled “Let’s pack the State Boardroom!” Mr. DeHart said, “The optics of 50+ principals in the State Boardroom will speak volumes to the support we have for Verletta. Please take this opportunity to let your attendance show your support for our Superintendent and our displeasure with the unwarranted over reach by the State.”
Mr. DeHart said that the organized trip is “not a rally,” but an effort to show the actual support of school administrators who are in favor of Ms. White as Baltimore County’s permanent superintendent, the very administrators who will be impacted by the decision. He told The Baltimore Post that he feels Ms. Salmon’s decision is a “slap in the face” to the eight members who voted in favor of Ms. White.
Ms. White has emphasized literacy and discipline as her top priorities for the the district. She is a product of Baltimore County Public Schools and has worked in the field of education for over 25 years.
Baltimore County’s school board will discuss the topic “consideration of the superintendent’s placement” at tonight’s board meeting.