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Baltimore County school board member’s “mansplaining,” highlight of tense school board meeting
Posted by Ann Costantino on 5th April 2018
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—– By: Ann Costantino —–

District Three Board Member Kathleen Causey (left), District Six Board Member Stephen Verch (middle), At Large Board Member Julie Henn (right), Baltimore County Public Schools

manˈsplān/
verb
informal
gerund or present participle: mansplaining
(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
“I’m listening to a guy mansplain economics to his wife”

Baltimore County, Md. –  On Tuesday, Baltimore County’s school board met to vote on two hot topic contracts that resulted in a spirited debate and what some have characterized as a disrespectful six-minute rant directed at audience members, District Three Board Member Kathleen Causey, and At Large Board Member Julie Henn, by fellow board member and practicing attorney, Stephen Verch, Esq.

The board approved a $75,000 contract that night for controversial superintendent search firm, Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA) and a highly debated seven-year, $140 million contract with Daly Computers to expand the school system’s system-wide digital curriculum initiative, STAT – or the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow laptop-for-every student program.

The majority of the board voted in favor of both contracts, but the search firm contract would be approved after Mr. Verch first made a motion to modify the motion to vote in favor of the company.  Mr. Verch surprised board members four hours into the meeting – at 10:30pm  – asking them to consider Ms. Verletta White that night for a permanent superintendent position.  The board voted to discuss the matter on April 17 and then passed the search firm contract. HYA was recently criticized for assisting a Columbus, Ohio school system in violating its state’s open records act.

But, despite heightened anxiety about the $140 million expenditure and controversial search firm, stakeholders and advocacy groups have focused on the demeanor displayed by Mr. Verch toward fellow board members, some calling for him to publicly apologize or step down from the board.

Mr. Verch, who represents District Six and has run for both Baltimore County Council and state delegate, called some board members hypocritical for asking for an alternate device for the school system’s STAT program, when in the past, he said, they were champions for health, safety and cost savings.

“I note that we’re now hearing that a different device should be chosen by this board. To those parents who believe that devices harm their children, physically or otherwise, and thought that, perhaps, there was a champion on the board for that position, please note there is no one on the board who says, ‘these devices harm children.’  In fact, those who would argue against the device in the contract before us are now offering another device!”

“So, if a device harms children,” he said as he looked in the board members’ direction, “then how can you sit there and in fact suggest any other device? To those parents who take that position, you have now been cast to the curb…”

Mr. Verch, who voted for the $140 million Daly contract, continued, “If you believed that there were opportunity costs associated with the contract we have before us right now, and that you had champions who would fight that battle for you because they are concerned about a lack of social workers, or other useful employees that can be hired, please note folks are now saying your position is now being cast to the curb because there is another device that these folks are advocating for.”  He said, “Now, if you thought they were champions on any one of those positions, you now find that they were, in fact, not.”

Mr. Verch continued, “The flag on our county has two symbols: the wheel of industry and a plow. The plow hearkens the royal heritage in this county. We have moved as a county into a 21st century, but we should not forget those rural origins.”  He continued, “Hay is a very delicate crop; it can only be harvested when the sun shines. If it is harvested wet it is ruined. And, in fact, in our political lexicon … a term applies and that term is the following: ‘make hay while the sun shines;’ and what you have heard tonight is the hypocrisy of three positions… ‘Making hay while the sun shines.’”

Ms. Causey fired back, calling for Board Chair Edward Gilliss to put an end to Mr. Verch’s speech and what some complain are characteristically lengthy monologues.

“Mr. Chair… I think it would be more appropriate in the future to prevent board members from making personal attacks on other board members, putting words in their mouths that do not belong (and) to have such a tirade, for such a length of time,” she said.

Ms. Causey continued, “What I would like to do is say, what I have been saying since the beginning, I’ve never been against technology. It’s about balance – and this particular point, it is about balance because if this board is going to move forward with a contract tonight, I would rather it be a quality product that will save this system $9 million for all of those opportunity costs that I do in fact care very deeply about. In fact, I care so deeply about that,” Ms. Causey said, “I am going to try and come back to this board for the next four years to continue to advocate for children and parents and teachers and to make every dollar count because we need every single one of them.” She then said to Mr. Verch, “You can put the hypocrisy and those other words and you can keep them.”

Spectators at the meeting applauded.

At large board member, Julie Henn, then pointed out that Mr. Verch’s comments were misguided since the conversation was about the device contract itself and not other elements, such as other important issues dealing with health and safety.  Ms. Henn said, “It is in comprehensible that my colleague on the board would use this as an opportunity to throw mud at your fellow board colleagues.”

Ms. Henn is running in this year’s first ever Baltimore County school board election for the District Five seat.  Ms. Causey is campaigning to maintain her District Three seat. Both board members have significant community support.  Both women are the only board members with a background in technology.

Community backlash regarding the exchange with Mr. Verch has turned into somewhat of a ground swell of criticism surrounding what some see as behavior unbecoming of a board member, as well as Board Chair Gilliss’ inaction during that meeting – and others like it.

However, Mr. Verch’s comments toward the board members were not the only form of what some see as out-of-line behavior at Tuesday’s meeting.

Several school system teachers, whose students already use the devices, came in support of the $140 million contract.

The group wore matching neon green shirts, saying #keepmovingforward.  The teachers are criticized for disrespecting public speakers and heckling at large board member, Ann Miller, as she spoke.

Several attendees noted that the same STAT teachers counted down while parents spoke of concerns regarding the devices, as the timed three-minutes speakers are given to address the board came to an end.

The Baltimore Post reported last month that Ryan Imbriale and others from the school system’s Department of Innovative Learning, organized a rally of STAT teachers to attend the meeting, which was rescheduled to Tuesday due to inclement weather.

Some who witnessed the events at Tuesday’s meeting wrote letters to the board and posted frustrations on social media, “… there was a lack of control and order regarding the unprofessional and inconsiderate behavior of many of the BCPS employees wearing the lime green shirts. During public comment and during discussion by the board, there was snickering, whispering, and comments from this group,” a letter said. “While one person spoke during her stakeholder spot, several from this group of employees watched the timer and counted down–aloud–her final few seconds. Not only was I astonished that such rude behavior would come from a group of so-called professionals, but I was deeply disappointed that Mr. Gilliss, board chair, did nothing to address or control this behavior.”

In another letter directed at the board, a parent wrote, “I found it absolutely unacceptable to hear BCPS staff in the lime green shirts counting down out loud as time was running out on one of the citizen’s advisory council speakers.  It was completely unprofessional, and I believe BCPS owes her a public apology on behalf of your staff.”

Another letter stated, “I am writing to implore you to demand that Board Member Stephen L. Verch, Esq. publicly apologize for his disrespectful behavior at the BCPS Board of Education meeting on April 3, 2018. To make amends, his apology would be given to the Board members who were maligned as well as the other Board and audience members who witnessed such unprofessional disrespect.”

Another letter, directed at Mr. Verch, stated, “Mr. Verch: Since I started attending and/or watching the Board meetings approximately a year ago, your arrogance and contempt for your fellow Board members has been quite evident to me and to many others. While it is my personal wish that you would resign from the Board and leave the other members to work on a more appropriate and cooperative way of providing oversight for the BCPS system, if you are unwilling to do that, I would at least expect you to apologize to all parties involved and correct your errant behavior.”

Former Baltimore County media specialist, Anne Groth, wrote to the board, “You talked about public perception and warned that the BOE could not afford to generate more negative publicity.  I draw attention in particular to these words: ‘One of the things I think we have to consider all the time is how the community looks at us.  And for those people who don’t believe the community looks askance at us for the experience we had with the previous superintendent, you haven’t been listening or you’ve been talking to people who just say something they know you want to hear…’”

One spectator said in response to not just Mr. Verch’s comments, but to those of another school system staff member, “The term ‘mansplaining’ may have escaped my lips on more than one occasion while watching. My mouth dropped to the floor when Mr. Verch personally attacked his fellow board members and when his comments were allowed to continue. These comments were completely uncalled for and unprofessional. I’ve participated on boards for nearly 15 years and I have NEVER witnessed behavior such as this.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Verch told The Baltimore Post that he has not received any backlash.

“I have received a few emails from folks who did not agree with the position that I took at the board meeting.”  But, he said, “Ardent advocacy is in the eye and ear of the beholder.”

Mr. Verch continued, “My recollection is, and I didn’t go back and watch the video, is that I didn’t name any board member.”  He said, “I have also had some (people) send me emails, and again, I didn’t see the video, saying that I was speaking to the audience.  So, my recollection is that I was looking around the room.  At no point did I name a board member.  Board reactions are what board members reactions are,” he said.

Asked if he would apologize, Mr. Verch said, “Do you mean for the ardent advocacy or for the words I used? I’m not going to apologize for the position that I took during the board meeting,” he said.

When asked if there were any part of Tuesday’s meeting that he would do differently, Mr. Verch said, “Ardent advocacy is needed without hesitation.  It was needed before I came on the board, it will be needed after I am gone.  And I will continue to be an ardent advocate for education.”

“My words speak for themselves,” Mr. Verch said.  “So, as I said, I left it all out there in the board room.  And those are the words.”

Ms. Causey was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

annc@thebaltimorepost.com