—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Baltimore County Public school board voted on Thursday to file a petition for a declaratory ruling with the State Board of Education, requesting clarification about the legality of State Superintendent Karen Salmon’s decision not to approve Baltimore County Public Schools’ Superintendent Verletta White as the system’s next permanent superintendent.
Nick Stewart and seven other board members voted to file the petition which seeks to ask the state for its interpretation of the law used by Salmon when she declined to approve White for the permanent position in April and May. “I think this is critically important and this is our primary function as a board and we need to understand whether – and to what degree – we have discretion to affect our own choice for a local superintendent…” Stewart said. “In order for us to be able to understand again what role do we play in this primary, most important function that we have as a board, it has been, in my opinion, stymied by the proper application of the law by the state superintendent.”
Board members, Kathleen Causey, Ann Miller, Julie Henn and Roger Hayden voted against the petition.
Miller and Causey explained their decision to vote against the motion, stating the intent of the request sought an outcome, and not only a clarification of the law. “I don’t have an issue with the board asking for clarification of COMAR. I think that makes sense if there are any questions around that, Miller said. Causey said, “I think there is a difference between asking for clarification versus asking for a result.”
Miller elaborated on her statement with The Baltimore Post, stating that she voted against the motion because she “did not agree with the specific outcome the petition is seeking, which is to limit the authority of the state superintendent from one of checks and balances to one of merely compliance oversight.” Miller said, “In the case of the Board of Education of Baltimore County, there were clear concerns about the superintendent selection made by the local board, and the state superintendent is the last line of defense in guarding against imprudent or political decisions made by a local board.”
“Essentially, seven individuals can make a selection that could be in conflict with the wishes of the public they serve and obligate the county’s taxpayers to fiscally support that decision for the next four years,” Miller said. “I am grateful for the prudent pause that Dr. Salmon imposed on this very important decision, requiring simply that the selection be made for a candidate free of ethics violations and after an independent audit prompted by ethical and criminal actions by the previous superintendent and the board’s selection for incoming superintendent.”
In April, Salmon declined to approve White, citing an ethical lapse and lack of results of a highly anticipated procurement audit which had not started at the time Salmon was asked to approve White’s appointment. In May, the majority of the Baltimore County school board voted to ask Salmon to reconsider her decision. Salmon did not, encouraging the board to initiate a good faith search for a new superintendent.
White took over as the system’s interim superintendent after Dallas Dance, the system’s former superintendent, left the system in June 2017 amid a criminal investigation not known at the time. Dance was later sentenced to serve six months in a Virginia correctional facility after pleading guilty to four counts of perjury. Dance failed to disclose nearly $147,000 of income earned outside of the school system on financial disclosure statements. He signed the forms under penalty of perjury. Dance served four of the six months.
After Dance left the system, White took over as interim. But in order to take the permanent position, 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 White’s appointment: 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 following questions concerning inappropriate vendor and employee ties. White had proactively initiated a review of procurement practices in September 2017, yet the review would not occur. But after a pair of articles by The New York Times and Baltimore Sun called questionable vendor and employee relationships into question last fall, legislators, board members and the public demanded an audit.
The audit proposed included contracts and procurement practices that occurred under former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance’s tenure – 2012 to 2017; however, some of the same decision-makers are still in place under White’s administration.
White is known as a homegrown talent – first a student, then a teacher and principal, and finally an administrator in Baltimore County Public Schools’ central office. She worked as the system’s Chief Academic Officer under Dance. White, who is in her second year serving as the system’s interim superintendent, has dedicated her 25-year professional career to education and has focused on literacy and safety as her top two priories. White has also participated in listening tours around the county to consider feedback from the community.
The newly seated school board – comprised of seven elected and five appointed members – will take over on December 3. The twelve members will be charged with hiring the system’s next permanent superintendent.