Guest op-ed by Joanne C. Simpson, as originally posted in STAT-us BCPS.
Dallas Dance could be coming to a school district near you. For a visit anyway. Announced this week: Dance’s new role after leaving his $275,000 annual superintendent job at Baltimore County Public Schools after June 30–at least two national consulting gigs.
Both entities, MGT Consulting Group and the Center for Digital Education, have had at least tangential relationships with several BCPS’ vendors, the superintendent, or the school system itself.
On Thursday, Dance announced a full-time position with MGT Consulting Group, a large Florida-based educational consulting company with offices nationwide.
Among other goals for the for-profit consulting group: “Future-Facing. MGT recognizes the changing face of education, as requisite knowledge shifts and desirable goals are reimagined so students are prepared for a 21st century workplace. With our broad knowledge background and significant experience, we will give you solutions that are appropriate and actionable.”
A current focus of MGT Consulting, one shared by Dance, is “technology strategic planning:” “Our experts know how to effectively produce strategic planning documents including all necessary inputs and are able to present the technology strategic plans to governing bodies in a way that encourages adoption.”
Dance’s strategic planning skills are evident in numerous reports for BCPS, including Blueprint 2.0. Yet there are questions about the financial efficacy, as well as no objective evidence of positive student learning outcomes, for Dance’s signature initiative: Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT). Among other issues, Baltimore County’s standardized PARCC student test scores last year came in lower than comparable districts in the region, and mostly dropped below the state average. Yet STAT is being used widely–by Dance and others–as an example to replicate in other school districts across the country.
Dance on Thursday said that MGT Consulting Group has had a contract with Baltimore County Public Schools in the past.
A second part-time consulting position is Senior Fellow at the Center for Digital Education (CDE), advising technology industry companies creating educational products and programs. Dance, a longtime public school official, will now work inside that industry, yet apparently consult with school districts as well.
As recently reported: “Specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy and funding, the CDE is also a division of e.Republic, a national research company which focuses exclusively on education on the state and local government levels. According to their website, e.Republic works with over 700 companies – from “Fortune 500s to startups” – in order to help those companies “power their public sector sales and marketing success.” Among the companies listed: Intel, IBM, Blackboard, Microsoft, Aerohive, Apple, Samsung, Dell and Google.” Intel, Blackboard, Microsoft, and other companies are familiar entities at BCPS.
Why these consulting groups? And why now? (Dance resigned just one year into a second four-year contract, giving the district just two months notice). Perhaps an answer is partly here: A recently approved change in BCPS’ Ethics Code apparently raises questions about any employee participating in, or negotiating a job with, an entity doing business with BCPS and related (see below).
Ethics code revisions also appear to put limits on any employee participating/holding a position in a Limited Liability Corporation. (Dance has just such an LLC.) The timing of all this is quite likely not coincidental.
Dance unexpectedly announced his resignation on Tuesday, April 18, the day the Ethics Code changes were set for first read by the Board of Education. BCPS’ Policy Review Committee, which is also advised by the district’s General Council Margaret-Ann F. Howie, had suggested the following amendments, among others:
See the policy here and linked below: http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/AN3JHM4B9A7F/$file/8363_Policy_PRC_3-13-17.pdf
The Ethics Code details: Policy 8363 “Conflict of Interest–Prohibited Conduct,” with adds in ALL CAPS, notes that except as otherwise permitted, a school official may not participate in any matter in which the following is a party: “A business entity, INCLUDING A LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY OR A LIMITED LIABILITY PARTNERSHIP, for which the school official or a QUALIFYING relative of the official is an officer, director, trustee, partner or employee.”
In Dance’s most recent financial disclosure forms, he acknowledged ownership/directorship of the LLC “Deliberate Excellence.” Dance wrote that the LLC, filed in Maryland, was formerly in the name of his father, Roy Rogers Dance.
Does this Ethics Code revision, which would take effect after Dance leaves, make such directorship a complication or a conflict? Seems so. Maybe that LLC was too important to let go?
Among other recent developments, Google Alerts on June 12 noted that Dance is publishing a book by the same name as his LLC: Deliberate Excellence.
“SAGE Publishing: Shaun Dallas Dance Baltimore County Public Schools, Superintendent. Deliberate Excellence. Professional Book.” It’s unclear if Dance has received any financial advance on the book, which is due out in early 2018, or if that would be prohibited under the district’s ethics code; his role as superintendent is cited specifically. Any income would need to be reported on financial disclosure forms, where disparities have led to recent financial disclosure violations for Dance.
Also, under the revised Ethics Code Policy 8363 is 2 (c and d), which notes that a school official may not “participate in any matter in which any of the following is a party [including] a business entity with which the school official . . HAS APPLIED FOR A POSITION OR is negotiating EMPLOYMENT.” It appears that also covers any business with a contract with the district, according to the policy. (The language is rather convoluted. Any employment attorneys out there?) A quick search of BCPS procurement databases does not yet reveal a current contract for MGT Consulting Group with the schools. Will we see one down the pike?
Dance does have numerous crossover , its partners and the related magazine , winning awards and accolades here, here and here–the last in which Dance was named “Maryland Outstanding Leader Using Technology in 2017,” just several weeks before the superintendent announced his resignation.:“Dr. Dance’s honor also
Yet, as superintendent, Dance also has served on the board of ISTE and attended numerous ISTE-affiliated conferences. (Dance apparently was also at a recent conference attended by representatives for CDE, which announced his fellowship position this week prior to Dance actually leaving). ISTE edtech sponsors and corporate members, meanwhile, include Microsoft, Discovery Education, CDW-G, and others doing business with BCPS. The group’s sponsor contribution levels are marked here, including ‘Mission’ sponsors like Microsoft at $150,000 annually.
There are way too many edtech ties here . . .
The Ethics Code revisions, approved by the board at the June 13 meeting, would apparently need to be reviewed by state officials before being made law, which is expected in July. Dance’s last day is June 30, and interim superintendent Verletta White officially takes the helm of the 112,000-student school district on July 1.
Overall, were Superintendent Dance’s consulting and travel proclivities too much for our cash-strapped public school system? Was the ongoing stretching of the Ethics Code an underlining issue? Maybe a mostly private-sector consulting job seems more appropriate to his promotional charms. The new positions do allow him the flexibility to live close to family in Richmond, Va. Either way, it seems that all the nationwide travel promoting the expansion of technology in education–much of that travel on the public dime–has paid off for the superintendent’s career and future, and might yet do the same for other edtech-focused top BCPS administrators.
In the end, however, what does it really mean for BCPS students?
Joanne C. Simpson is a former staff writer for The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and Johns Hopkins Magazine. She is a BCPS parent, college educator, and freelance writer based in Baltimore.