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Update: Baltimore County’s school board to vote on $140 million technology contract
Posted by Ann Costantino on 6th March 2018
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—– By: Ann Costantino —–

Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education

(Update:  Vote delayed by two weeks.  Baltimore County’s Education Board will vote on the $140,000 Daly contract at the next board meeting, scheduled for March 20.)

Baltimore County Public Schools’ Board of Education will vote on a hefty $140 million Daly Computers, Inc. contract at the March 20 board meeting, money which will be used to replace and expand hardware for S.T.A.T., the school system’s laptop-per-student program which emphasizes software-based or online lessons in grades K-8, expanding to high schools district-wide starting next year. 

If awarded, the money will lease 133,000 tablets for students and staff, and will bring the total so far committed to the laptop roll-out to $300 million, or higher. The leases would expire in four years. 

But the costs, which do not account for specialized teaching staff salaries, recurring software license fees, infrastructure and tens of millions of dollars in software or “digital curricula,” is estimated to have committed Baltimore County taxpayers to nearly $400 million – in the first several years after the program launched in 2014.

Spearheaded by former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance and Baltimore County schools’ Director of Innovative Learning, Ryan Imbriale, the S.T.A.T. program has moved forward, full steam ahead, despite growing concern about its educational benefit as well as relationships between school officials and technology vendors.

Both Dance and interim Superintendent Verletta White were zinged with ethics violations related to outside work not disclosed on their financial disclosure forms. Both leaders worked as consultants for the Education Research & Development Institute – or ERDI – an educational consulting company whose clients pay ERDI thousands of dollars to meet with school system leaders.

Many of ERDI’s clients are education technology vendors and, as reported in a November Towson Flyer Op-Ed, the school system has several million dollars worth of contracts with some of those clients.

Joanne C. Simpson wrote of those contracts.  They include “Discovery Education ($10 million); Code to the Future ($987,000); NWEA, MAP-testing provider ($3.9 million); McGraw Hill ($15.6 million); Curriculum Associates/iReady ($3.2 million); DreamBox Learning ($3.2 million); and other for-profit companies whose multi-million dollar ‘contract spending authorities’ were approved by the Baltimore County Board of Education over the past five years—under the tenure of former superintendent Dallas Dance.” 

Dance, who was indicted in late January on four counts of perjury, is expected to go to trial this week.  He left the school system in June amid a criminal investigation not known at the time.  The former superintendent is charged for allegedly failing to report nearly $147,000 of income he earned working outside of the school system while leading the country’s 25th largest school district. White, who has agreed not to do any more paid consulting work, has not been accused of any crime.

The Baltimore Post reported last week that Dance had the school system pay for travel expenses related to undisclosed consultant work he did for ERDI in 2015.  Through a Maryland Public Information Act request, The Baltimore Post found a school system credit card statement in Dance’s name, an approved expense form and xeroxed receipts.  The receipts explicitly state that the expenses were for the February 2015 ERDI Conference which took place in Newport Beach, California.  School officials have not said if Dance will be required to repay the expenses billed to the school system.

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt will be handling Dance’s perjury case directly.  Thomas “Mike” McDonough, a deputy state prosecutor who spearheaded the indictment against Dance, retired last week.

In 2013, within eight months on the job with the school system, Dance announced his vision for a laptop program. Later named S.T.A.T., for Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, some say the initiative has moved at the speed of light, despite a lack of objective data supportive of the expense or of its educational benefits.

Republican District Three Councilman Wade Kach, is asking Baltimore County’s education board to slow down the speed of S.T.A.T and is concerned about the way the system uses data to frame its progress.

Kach said in a letter to the Board of Education that he is in the process of formally requesting that the Maryland State Department of Education conduct a performance audit “to evaluate the effectiveness, economy and the efficiency of BCPS Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) initiative.”  

Kach said, “The reason I think this is necessary is that Baltimore County taxpayers need to be assured that the STAT program is providing positive learning outcomes for BCPS students. I urge the Board to support this action.” He added, “While BCPS did commission a study evaluating the STAT program through the Johns Hopkins University, I found its product to have limited value.  Specifically, there are a number of charts in the STAT Year Three Evaluation – Student Achievement dated December 2017, which I consider misleading.”

State Senator Jim Brochin, a Democrat who represents District 42, wrote a letter to the Maryland State Board of Education last fall, asking the board to conduct an audit of the school system.  The New York Times published the letter which came on the heels of an article The Times published on Baltimore County’s STAT program. 

Reporters Natasha Singer and Danielle Ivory said of the school system in the article, “Close ties between school districts and their tech vendors can be seen nationwide. But the scale of Baltimore County schools’ digital conversion makes the district a case study in industry relationships.”  The reporters also identified contracts that increased after Dance met with two ERDI clients.  The Times found that five months after Dance met with Curriculum Associates and Dreambox, the school system increased its spending authority with the vendors by $2 million and $1.8 million, respectively. 

In light of increasing scrutiny of the school system, the entire Baltimore County Council has requested a State Legislative Audit of the school system’s technology contracts and procurement practices. 

Additionally, School Board Members Kathleen Causey, Ann Miller, Roger Hayden and Julie Henn have asked for state-level audits, either through the State Board of Education or state legislators.

However, the school system wishes to hire its own auditor to conduct the audit.  School Board Chair Edward Gilliss, the majority of the education board and County Executive Kevin Kamanetz are opposed to an outside audit of the school system.

Board members will vote on March 20 during the live streamed meeting at the district’s Greenwood headquarters in Towson.  The meeting begins at 6:30pm. Link to meeting here.

annc@thebaltimorepost.com