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—– By: Ann Costantino —–
One week after Baltimore County schools’ former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance was sentenced to serve a six-month jail term for perjury charges stemming from withholding nearly $150,000 in income from three financial disclosure statements, the school system’s ethics department and law office purged nearly 2,400 financial documents for over 350 past and current employees of the school system.
The mass purge occurred on April 27, 2018 and included records that were filed between 1997 and 2013 for all system employees who were required to file annually, including members of the central office staff, principals, school board members, legal counsel and all employees with financial decision-making power. Dance was sentenced for the perjury charges seven days earlier, on April 20.
But while the district’s own ethics policy states the financial records must be retained for at least four years from the time they are filed with the school system, up until April 27, the district kept records which had been filed as long as 21 years ago.
The purge appears to be the first of its kind for the system, records show. And although the documents destroyed on April 27th were discarded legally, records also show that Baltimore County schools had retained the system’s financial statements up and until a week after Dance’s legal battle ended with his sentencing, and during a heated debate on the conduct of a full system audit which questioned employee and vendor ties.
Calls for a full-scale and independent audit were first triggered by a November 2017 New York Times article on the school system which revealed administrators’ consulting work for a company whose clients are school system vendors.
Last week, the Baltimore Post requested the destruction log (called the Financial Disclosure Statement Certificate of Records Destruction) for the system’s disclosure documents and found that over 91% percent of the documents were destroyed on April 27, 2018. Prior to that date, records for all system employees and board members – required to file annual financial disclosures – remained intact, with one exception.
In 2017, Ryan Imbriale, the district’s director of innovative learning who, with former Superintendent Dance, spearheaded the district’s education technology program, amended his financial disclosure forms twice, starting roughly two months after news that Superintendent Dance was being criminally investigated for allegations relating to having perjured his own financial disclosure forms. In both cases, the originally filed hardcopy statements were purportedly destroyed in error by school personnel. The electronic versions of Imbriale’s filings, school officials say, were also destroyed through new 2016 filing software that replaces previous versions when they are amended. Despite this explanation, none of the other employees’ amended forms were replaced nor destroyed through this process. School personnel both wrote and maintain the software for the electronic filings of the district’s financial disclosure records.
The Baltimore Post first reported on Imbriale’s missing forms in March. Three months later, an attorney who represents the system’s ethics board explained the occurrence as a one-time clerical error in which Imbriale’s financial documents were discarded within the four-year retention period, a violation of the district’s own ethics policy.
Aside from Imbriale’s two discarded forms and the nearly 2,400 documents destroyed on April 27, an additional 200 financial disclosure documents were scrapped on August 1.
Required to be filed annually, disclosure of outside sources of income and connections to vendors and other companies is mandated by the school system. Employees who have the authority to make a final decision to commit the school system to the spending of public funds are required to file the forms.
Along with the superintendent, community superintendents, central office staff, principals, and legal counsel, even school board members must file annually to report income and relationships with any company doing business with the school system. The reason is to disclose potential conflicts of interest and relationships with school system vendors. The mandated legal forms are signed by employees under penalty of perjury.
Baltimore County schools’ policy states that financial disclosure statements must be retained for four years before discarding them. The policy mirrors state law.
Between February and August, The Baltimore Post requested the financial disclosure statements for roughly two dozen central office staff, cabinet members and community superintendents. Some were found to have amended their forms after reports surfaced about former Superintendent Dance’s criminal investigation and indictment.
But John Mayo, the system’s director of human resources, also amended his forms after The Post first requested them. The Post requested his documents twice and discovered the amended forms between the two requests. It was also discovered that Mayo failed to disclose a consulting position he had in 2013 with a controversial school system vendor, SUPES Academy. Before its 2015 collapse due to a federal investigation that revealed an elaborate kickback scheme, SUPES provided professional development training for aspiring school leaders.
Records obtained by The Baltimore Post showed Dance and Mayo listed as master teachers and coaches for a SUPES program which aimed to provide professional development for Chicago Public School principals in 2013. Despite the discovery, neither the school system nor Mayo would comment on the omission from his financial disclosure filing for that year. The school district has since purged the purported inaccurate 2013 record from its system.
The Baltimore Post reported on Mayo’s 2013 omission in late June. Mayo’s 2013 disclosure statement was among the 200 documents discarded on Aug 1.
In 2014, Dance was found by the district’s ethics panel to be in violation of his employment contract for failing to inform the school board of the side job with SUPES. Despite the violation, Dance continued to omit payments he received from the company on his financial disclosure documents. The former superintendent had begun receiving payments from the company during discussions he had with its proprietors to bring a $875,000 contract with the company to Baltimore County Public Schools.
Dance was indicted in January on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose roughly $147,000 in income in 2012, 2013 and 2015. About $90,000 of that income was paid by SUPES Academy and its sister company, Synesi Associates.
In April, Dance was sentenced to serve six months in a Baltimore County detention center for the crime, but was granted a transfer to a Henrico County jail in Virginia. He is scheduled to be discharged two months early, later this month, due to diminution credits which grant early discharge for good behavior. In July, Dance’s attorneys began petitioning the court for a new modification to his remaining sentence, state records show.
At the time of the April sentencing, Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt told the court that Dance engaged in a “continual course of blatant deceit and self-interest.”
Davitt said after the sentencing, “As the court pointed out, it’s not so much at this point a matter of punishing Dr. Dance, as much as it is sending that message to the community. Not just school officials, but all public officials. That when you’re in a position of trust and you abuse that trust, that it’s extremely harmful to the public. And it simply can’t be tolerated”.
Baltimore County schools did not respond to requests for comment about the abrupt April 27th mass purge of financial disclosure records. Officials would also not say what prompted the decision to destroy the records – some which were over two decades old – amid calls for a full financial audit of the school system and employees’ ties to school system vendors.
This story will be updated.