—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Citing two ethical violations and the school system’s failure to complete its own audit, Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon declined to approve Verletta White’s appointment today as Baltimore County Public Schools’ next permanent superintendent.
Although a majority of Baltimore County’s school board approved Ms. White’s appointment last month, the position required approval from the state superintendent.
In a letter to Baltimore County School Board Chair Ed Gilliss, Dr. Salmon stated ,“I and the State Board have advocated for an expanded audit of the Baltimore Public School procurement process. It isn’t clear to me whether that audit is in process and whether the scope of the audit has been expanded. It is clear, however, that the audit has not yet been completed.”
“With those concerns in mind,” Dr. Salmon continued, “pursuant to my authority under Maryland Education Article 7-201, I declined to approve Dr. White as permanent superintendent at this time. Instead, if the board requests such an appointment, I would approve a second interim appointment for Dr. White, or for a different interim superintendent. That will allow sufficient time for completion of the audit and for full disclosure of the results.”
Last fall, after an article by the The New York Times revealed Ms. White’s affiliation with education consulting company, the Education Research and Development Institute – or ERDI, questions arose regarding income she failed to disclose on her financial disclosure statements.
In January, an ethics panel found Ms. White in violation of her contract for failing to disclose the income and for using her prestige of office for the consultant position. ERDI seeks out education leaders to meet with its clients.. Ethics findings can be viewed here.
As a result of their findings, Ms. White amended her financial disclosure statements to include the income. She also promised to cease all paid work outside of the school system.
Baltimore County’s previous superintendent, Shaun Dallas Dance, who also failed to disclose income, surrendered to a Virginia jail last week to begin six months of incarceration after he was convicted on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose – on legally binding forms – roughly $147,000 he made consulting for other companies and school districts. Some of the income he did not disclose was for work he also did as a consultant for ERDI. Unlike Mr. Dance, however, Ms. White has not been charged with any crime.
In a letter to school system staff today, Ms. White stated, “The State Superintendent has stated that she believes that the ethics review panel’s findings cause her ‘concern,’ and has indicated that the lack of an audit is another matter that prevents her from providing her approval ‘at this time.'” Ms. White continued, “The State Superintendent appears to be unaware of the fact that the audit, one that I have been advocating for throughout this school year, was intended to review our system’s purchasing practices under past administrations. There has never been any indication that procurement practices of my administration lack integrity.”
Ms. White told the state board in January that she initiated an internal audit last September. It is not clear why the audit has not yet been completed.
Baltimore County school board members, Julie Henn, Ann Miller, Kathleen Causey and Roger Hayden, requested an outside and independent audit in January after former Superintendent Dance had been indicted on the perjury charges. The board members asked the state board and state legislators to intervene. Various legislators, including all seven Baltimore County council members, supported a state-level audit. State Senator Jim Brochin, a Democrat running for Baltimore County Executive, was first to ask the State Board to audit the school system, as published in a November New York Times article.
Current Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, however, did not support an independent audit of the school system’s procurement practices. Mr. Kamenetz, a Democrat who is also running for governor, blamed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for the state superintendent’s decision, calling the governor “shameless.” The governor’s office says Gov. Hogan had no part in the state superintendent’s decision.
Like Mr. Kamenetz, Ms. White and the majority of the Baltimore County school board favored hiring its own auditor to look into its procurement practices. However, to date, no type of audit of Baltimore County schools has been completed.
Ms. White has also not provided the list of companies with whom she met as a consultant for ERDI, as first requested by The New York Times. The Baltimore Post has also asked for details on the relationship.
ERDI pays district leaders to meet with their clients – largely education technology vendors – who in turn pay ERDI to meet with the education leaders. The consultant company pairs school leaders with their paying clients for in-person multi-day conferences.
The practice has been criticized in some districts across the country for allowing vendors unrestricted access to education leaders, as those vendors – some say – sell their products and services to superintendents and other school personnel. ERDI officials maintain that the meetings are designed to provide their clients valuable feedback on their products and services by leaders in the education sector whose students, teachers and staff would benefit from the improved products and services.
However, as reported by The Baltimore Post in November, at least one Baltimore County schools’ vendor, iStation, requested the district’s former superintendent, S. Dallas Dance, specifically. Emails and contracts discovered by a reporter showed that the vendor intended to “pitch” to Mr. Dance and nine other superintendents at a 2015 ERDI conference.
While records show that Baltimore County schools spent approximately $45,000 with the vendor, the school system did not ultimately enter into a contract with iStation.
However, The New York Times found that five months after Mr. Dance met with two other ERDI’s clients in 2016 – Dreambox and iReady/Curriculum Associates – Baltimore County schools increased its spending authority with the vendors by $1.8 million and $2 million, respectively.
Mychael Dickerson, Baltimore County schools’ chief-of-staff and communications director, was not immediately available for a response to questions posed about Ms. White’s relationship with ERDI nor Dr. Salmon’s decision not to approve Ms. White’s appointment.
State Superintendent Salmon indicated in her letter that consideration of Ms. White for the permanent position could come at a later time, after she has time to consider “critical facts” that could be revealed by an audit. Dr. Salmon also indicated that she would consider the interim position for Ms. White for an additional year – or another candidate – if Baltimore County’s school board chooses to request it of the state.
State Board Member Michele Guyton released a public statement about her support of Dr. Salmon’s decision, stating it was due to “the incredibly important process of choosing a school leader.” Dr. Guyton said that the process “was not transparent, responsive to community concerns and did not follow proper procedure.”
Last month, Steve Verch. Esq., Baltimore County’s District Six board member, surprised the board when he made a 10:30pm motion to hire Ms. White as permanent superintendent after the board voted to hire superintendent search firm, Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA), to conduct a national search for other superintendents to be considered alongside Ms. White.
The board voted to defer the discussion about Ms. White ‘s appointment until the following meeting.
Yet, although the board majority also voted to initiate the national search with HYA at the same meeting, the district failed to execute the contract during the three weeks that transpired between the two meetings. Ms. White was approved by Baltimore County’s school board as its permanent superintendent, 8-4, at the following meeting. The national search did not proceed.
Mr. Verch, Board Chair Ed Gilliss and other members of the board were not immediately available for comment.
District Three Board Member Kathleen Causey told The Post, “I believe Dr. Salmon made a prudent decision to not approve a Permanent Superintendent with a statutory 4 year term, at this time. The Board of Education of Baltimore County and BCPS need to rebuild trust within the system, the community and the state. Trust will come through thoughtful considered decisions stemming from a clear process.”
Ms. Causey continued, “The Board did not perform the due diligence required for one of the most important responsibilities entrusted to us. It is incumbent on us to select the absolute best leader and administrator of our large and dynamic system and its 113,000 students. The Board leadership ignored the professional advice of the Maryland Association Boards of Education to complete a permanent search by using a Superintendent search firm. I hope moving forward, the Board has a more measured and vigorous process for determining the next Interim Superintendent.”
Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones took to Twitter to air his frustrations about Ms. Salmon’s decision not to appoint Ms. White. “I am outraged & disappointed in the Gov & the state super. to disregard the wishes of the citizens of Balt Co & not approve Dr. Whites appt,” he said. Councilman Jones had been vocal leading up to Ms. White’s appointment. The councilman discouraged Baltimore County’s school board from conducting a national search.
This story will be updated.