—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance charged Baltimore County Public Schools for travel expenses related to undisclosed consultant work he did for the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI), an education consulting company at the center of controversy which has prompted calls for an audit of the school system’s technology contracts.
Records show that in at least one instance, Dance had Baltimore County pay for an airline ticket and baggage fees totaling $630.10 for a February 22, 2015 flight to Santa Ana, California in which Dance was paid by ERDI to meet with four panels of edtech companies over a three-day period, for the February 2015 ERDI Conference.
Records obtained by The Baltimore Post, through a Maryland Public Information Act request, show detailed receipts, a credit card statement and an approved expense document that confirm the three charges to the school system which Dance incurred for travel to the ERDI Conference.
The receipts explicitly state that the expenses were for the February 2015 ERDI Conference which took place in Newport Beach, California.
United Airlines Flight: $539.10
Economy Plus Seat Upgrade: $66.00
Baggage Fee: $25.00
ERDI charges its clients between $13,000 to $66,000 to meet with school district leaders. But the company maintains that it sets the meetings up with school leaders who can provide vendors with valuable feedback on products and services.
The company – whose clients are largely education technology vendors – has been criticized for providing sales opportunities for its clients who have unrestricted access to superintendents during its meetings. Baltimore County Public Schools currently has millions of dollars in contracts with ERDI clients.
In a December 2014 email to Dance from the conference organizer regarding the February 2015 ERDI Conference, Dance was told, “You will receive invitations from corporate members for dinners or other events outside of the planned ERDI events. It’s especially important that if you are chairing a panel, that you accept the invitation from that company.”
Dance chaired one of the four panels he participated in during the event — for ERDI’s client, Baker & Taylor.
Emphasis on district leaders spending time with paying ERDI clients has been documented by clients, themselves. The Baltimore Post also previously reported how at least one vendor arranged to meet with Dance, specifically, for a February 2016 ERDI Conference.
Dance made $4,608 in 2015 to meet with ERDI’s clients, but failed to report the job to the school system. It is unclear whether ERDI, which pays its superintendents $500 to $2,000 per ERDI Conference, also reimbursed Dance for any expenses incurred.
The $4,608 Dance earned is part of $147,000 of unreported income that led to his indictment last month in which the former superintendent was charged with four counts of perjury for failing to disclose the income – under penalty of perjury – on three financial disclosure forms.
Dance also did not disclose Deliberate Excellence Consulting, LLC, his consulting company which, state records show, he dissolved in October 2017 amid a criminal investigation he was under at the time. Dance left the school system in June. It was later reported by The Baltimore Sun that he was under investigation at the time. Dance’s trial starts on March 8. Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt and Senior Assistant State Prosecutor, Kelly Madigan, will be handling the case against Dance.
White was cited earlier this month for violating two district policies for not disclosing the work on her financial disclosure forms, but told State Delegates last month that her intentions for doing so were different than those of the previous superintendent.
The ethics panel reviewing her case agreed with her assertion that the forms were confusing. White has agreed not to do any more paid consulting work.
In response to last fall’s nationwide coverage of Baltimore County Public Schools, State Senator Jim Brochin, a Democrat who is running for Baltimore County Executive, called for an audit of Baltimore County Public Schools.
The New York Times said that Brochin was “concerned about Baltimore County’s ties to a firm called the Education Research and Development Institute…”
The Times published Brochin’s letter penned to Maryland State Board of Education President, Andy Schmarick. In the letter Brochin said, “It falls to the State to provide oversight as recent questionable decisions of the school system and the failures of the Baltimore County Board of Education have come to light. To ensure that citizens of Baltimore County have continued confidence in our school system, we must provide a transparent and responsible State investigation and audit.”
The Baltimore Post is awaiting a status update on the calls for the State level audit as well as legislation proposed to compel the State to involve itself in the Baltimore County issue.
Baltimore County’s current board chair, Ed Gilliss, who has not been in favor of an outside audit of the school system, as well as board member David Ulhfelder, who was the board chair who signed off on Dance’s expense report that included the February 2015 ERDI charges, did not respond with comment. Mychael Dickerson, the school system’s Communications Director and Chief of Staff, also chose not to respond with comment.