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Update: Dallas Dance and the alleged SUPES Academy kickback scheme no one is talking about
Posted by Ann Costantino on 19th April 2018
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—– By: Ann Costantino —–

S. Dallas Dance, former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools

 

Update 4/20/18:  S. Dallas Dance sentenced to six months in jail with two years probation for perjury. He is eligible for work release program and must perform 700 hours of community service that he may serve while under work release.  Mr. Dance must also pay all court costs associated with his trial.  He will report to the  Baltimore County Detention Center next Friday, April 27.


On Friday, S. Dallas Dance, the former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, a rising star and self-described dynamic leader, will face his fate in Baltimore County Circuit Court for perjury charges, where the court will determine Mr. Dance’s sentence based on the recommendation of State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt who asked for a five year prison sentence, with all but 18 months suspended.

Standing before Judge Kathleen Cox, Mr. Dance will be sentenced for lying on his financial disclosure statements, under penalty of perjury, while concealing his consulting company and nearly $147,000 in income earned through consulting work he did for technology vendors, outside school districts and sister educational consulting firms, The SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates.

A significant portion of the concealed income came from SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates, firms that provided training and consulting to school system leadership, whose owners and the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools are serving prison sentences in federal penitentiaries for charges connected to an elaborate kickback scheme.

At his trial last month, Mr. Dance pleaded guilty to the perjury charges.

But, what the state’s prosecutor revealed last month in the statement of facts supportive of Mr. Dance’s perjury conviction, holds clues of other potential serious charges that paint a picture of a superintendent who not only perjured himself, but one who also appears to have taken bribes at the expense of Baltimore County Public Schools – all while he profited in secret.

The statement of facts is clear.

Over a two month period, Mr. Dance and officials from SUPES Academy exchanged messages which discussed his desire to be compensated and kept “busy” working as a SUPES consultant, while simultaneously bringing a SUPES contract to Baltimore County Public Schools. Mr.Dance went as far as stating he planned to fire a school system employee that jeopardized awarding the contract to SUPES.

While questions linger as to whether the alleged more serious crimes will be pursued by state or federal officials, the state prosecutor’s office and federal agencies cannot discuss investigations.  When asked, those officials would not comment.

Starting in 2011, former Illinois-based SUPES Academy provided professional development for education leaders seeking promotions to higher positions such as superintendents, principals and assistant principals.

Co-owned by Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the pair also ran two other companies – Synesi Associates and Proact Search – that worked to not only fix under-performing schools, but to staff school systems with new leadership.  In some cases, those leaders often graduated from their SUPES Academy superintendent training programs and became clients of the companies, themselves.  Stephen Kupfer worked for the companies.

In 2012, a year after graduating from the academy, Mr. Dance brought an $875,000 SUPES Academy contract to Baltimore County. The school board approved it on December 4, 2012.  But, just a few months earlier, Mr. Dance began negotiating a financial relationship with the company.

Throughout 2013, the former superintendent worked for SUPES, training aspiring education leaders in Chicago and other cities throughout the country.  In December of that year, The Baltimore Sun revealed Mr. Dance’s connection to a Chicago investigation that involved SUPES Academy and Ms. Byrd-Bennett.  Chicago reporter, Sarah Karp, first broke the story when she reported on a $20.5 million no-bid SUPES consulting contract passed by the Chicago Public School Board.

In response to the news, in 2014, Mr. Dance was reported to an independent ethics panel and received his first of three ethics violations after the panel found him to be in violation of his contract for not disclosing the job to his school board.  State Delegate Pat McDonough filed the ethics complaint against Mr. Dance which resulted in the ethics violations.  But board leadership failed to address the $875,000 contract and that Mr. Dance had been employed by a school system vendor.

In 2015, the FBI launched an investigation into a multimillion dollar SUPES contract Ms. Byrd-Bennett brought to Chicago Public schools for its Chicago Executive Leadership Academy (CELA) program which employed education leaders from districts across the country to train Chicago school principals.  Mr. Dance was one of those education leaders who worked as a CELA consultant.  Mr. Solomon, Mr. Vranas and Ms. Byrd-Bennett would be indicted later that year on charges stemming from steering multi-million dollar no-bid contracts to SUPES Academy in exchange for the promise of lucrative financial kickbacks and other perks.

In 2016, Mr. Solomon, Mr. Vranas and Ms. Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to one charge each.  The three had been charged with roughly 20 counts connected to activity related to the kickback scheme.

All three were sentenced last spring and are currently serving sentences in federal penitentiaries.

Five days after Ms. Byrd-Bennett’s April 13, 2017 sentencing, Mr. Dance tendered his resignation to Baltimore County schools. Unknown at the time was that he was under criminal investigation.  Mr. Dance stated that the long hours leading the school system had become too much.

Legal documents demonstrate many parallels between Baltimore County and Chicago public schools.

Although not charged with the same crimes, Mr. Dance’s agreement with SUPES Academy is eerily similar to that of Ms. Byrd-Bennett.

Though hired to lead Baltimore County Public Schools in July 2012, Mr. Dance first signed on as a consultant for the school district that April.  Also that April, Chicago Public Schools would hire Ms. Byrd-Bennett as consultant to the school system she would later be hired to lead.  Ms. Byrd-Bennett had worked as a SUPES Academy consultant immediately preceding the position with Chicago Public Schools.

But the parallels do not stop there.

Ms. Byrd-Bennett’s Sentencing Memorandum, a document that contains factors prosecutors want the court to consider for sentencing, stated that she arranged with Mr. Solomon and Mr. Vranas an up to 10% commission she would earn for securing contracts between SUPES Academy and Chicago Public Schools. The memorandum states, “Based on the terms of her undisclosed consulting agreement with the SUPES Entities, Byrd-Bennett stood to gain as much as 10% of the revenues generated from the SUPES Entities’ contracts with CPS.”

Ms. Byrd-Bennett’s legal documents show that in May 2012, the owners of SUPES agreed to pay her $254,000 for contracts she had secured up until that point.  She would later secure a $20.5 million contract with the promise of compensation once leaving her school system and rejoining SUPES Academy.

According to Mr. Dance’s legal documents, he received roughly $90,000 once agreeing to a $175,000 per year contract between Baltimore County schools and SUPES Academy.  The multi-year contract would have an overall spending authority of $875,000 – roughly 10 times the $90,000 Dance was paid by Mr. Solomon – or roughly 10% of the contracted spending authority between Baltimore County schools and SUPES Academy.  The payments also included travel and lodging expenses, records show.  Signed BCPS SUPES Academy contract. 

Baltimore County only ended its payments to SUPES Academy once SUPES’ troubles began in Chicago. The district paid $525,000 of the contracted spending authority and stopped payments one month before the FBI launched its investigation into the Chicago Public Schools contract with the consultants.

Baltimore County’s SUPES Academy Payment Schedule:

  • 1/22/2013 – ​STAFF/CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT: $60,000
  • 4/9/2013 – SUPPLEMENTAL PROGRAMS: $40,000 
  • 5/22/2013:  SUPPLEMENTAL PROGRAMS: $40,000
  • 7/2/2013 – ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT​: $3,500
  • 7/23/2013ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT:​ $31,500
  • 11/12/2013 – ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: $85,000
  • 1/30/2014 – ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT​: $30,000
  • 3/25/2014– ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: $30,000
  • 4/24/2014– ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT​: $30,000
  • 11/13/2014​ – ​STAFF/CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT: $85,000
  • 1/29/2015​ – CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT​: ​$45,000
  • 3/19/2015 – STAFF/CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT​: ​$45,000

On April 15, 2015, the FBI launched its investigation into the Chicago Public Schools SUPES Academy contract for its CELA training.

Although Mr. Dance was a paid CELA consultant, Baltimore County schools failed to address the conflict of Mr. Dance working for an active school system vendor.

On Tuesday, Baltimore County school board chair, Ed Gilliss, read aloud a resolution, condemning the behavior of the district’s former superintendent, stating, in part, “Whereas S. Dallas Dance, former Superintendent is Baltimore County Public Schools has pleaded guilty in the circuit court of Baltimore County on four counts of perjury for failing to reveal on required, official disclosure forms that he received approximately $147,000 in consulting fees; and whereas this was the first time in the 170 year history of Baltimore County Public Schools that a superintendent has been charged with criminal activity that has tarnished the reputation and trust of BCPS, therefore be resolved that the board of education of Baltimore County denounces this behavior by S. Dallas Dance.”

While the district denounced the perjury, it also failed to acknowledge the no-bid contract Mr. Dance brought to Baltimore County for which legal records show payments to him from Mr. Solomon and Mr. Vranas began in advance of Baltimore County’s SUPES contract.

Tomorrow, Mr. Dance faces sentencing.  The Baltimore Sun recently reported that the former superintendent is asking for probation for the perjury charges, but whether or not the other allegations against Mr. Dance will be pursued is up to state or federal investigators.

An investigator at the Maryland State Prosecutors’ office told The Baltimore Post that, in general, sometimes agencies work together – federal and state – and decide which agency will take which piece of a case.  The official told The Baltimore Post that a conviction for one aspect of a crime does not necessarily preclude another later.  The investigator also stated that, in general, timing of such cases can be a “fickle thing.”

 

annc@thebaltimorepost.com