By: Ann Miller —
Is Karma at work on the status quo in Baltimore County Public Schools?
The irony over the external contract and procurement audit of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) just can’t be ignored [“Baltimore County Executive Olszewski wants school board audit released to the public … and to him”, Baltimore Sun, March 11 2019]. The first phase of the external audit, which had been delayed by the previous complicit board, is now being rushed by the same movement supporting Verletta White’s superintendency.
The audit was first called for by Kathleen Causey and myself in the summer of 2017, even before the Baltimore Sun broke news of the criminal investigation of the previous superintendent, Dallas Dance. With a growing push for an external audit, the full board voted to conduct the audit in September 2017. Then it did nothing to make it happen until four board members implored the state board and our elected representatives to intercede.
The state board required the local board to expand the timeline of the audit, and some of our elected officials, led by Senator Brochin and the county council, asked for an expansion of the audit’s scope to match the request of the four board members.
This was occurring while the new interim superintendent, Verletta White, was vying for the permanent superintendent position. In November 2017, the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun broke news about inappropriate vendor relationships between an ed-tech company and both Dance and White that had occurred over at least four years, which ultimately led to the findings of several ethical violations against White, namely nondisclosure on financial reporting forms and use of prestige of office.
We later learned from the Baltimore Post that BCPS had begun destroying system records in April 2018, in advance of and during the audit.
Also in April 2018, the previous board, without conducting a search and after posting the position publicly for four days, pushed through White’s selection as superintendent to replace Dance. State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon did not approve the selection under her authority per state law, citing the ethical violations and the lack of the audit. On the very same day as Salmon issued her letter of denial to the local board, the BCPS Office of Law began purging records. Interestingly, that same eventful day was the start of Dance’s jail sentence. Within four days after the denial of White’s selection, the board met in a special session to begin work on conducting the multi-phase audit, eight months after the board’s vote.
On October 23 2018, the previous board chair, Ed Gilliss, called for a special board meeting in order to get the Phase One audit results, which we were told were completed. That meeting was later cancelled by Gilliss without explanation, except to say the audit phase was not done. The new board had to take command of the process after they took office in December 2018, which included a review by an ad hoc committee of the board. The following month, it was announced that a draft of the audit phase had been submitted to the board, to be reviewed by the ad hoc committee with opportunity for questions to the auditors.
In October 2018, Councilman Julian Jones, who is White’s most fervent supporter for permanent superintendent, held a candidate forum where he endorsed White and, per witness accounts, called the four board members “idiots.”
The irony of this debacle is that their delaying of the audit is what now puts them up against the wall in pushing White through. The permanent superintendent must be seated by July 1 and approved by the state superintendent. And we are still without a completed audit.
The full audit is going to take a long time to complete, since this is just the first phase of a multi-phase comprehensive audit. I don’t expect this first phase, designed by BCPS staff (the subject of the audit), and approved by the previous protectionist board, to yield meaningful results. I believe it was designed so that the first phase would be the most benign, and would then be used as justification to not conduct the later phases. It is the later phases which will be meaningful if the new board does its job.
This push to rush the board and the auditor on a comprehensive audit is driven by those who not only fought against having the audit, but whose primary concern is pushing Verletta White into the permanent superintendency.
– Ann Miller is a former member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County