www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-jerome-oberlton-review-20130530,0,364225.story

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City schools to review contracts under former IT officer

Jerome Oberlton faces indictment from tenure in Atlanta; he came under fire in Baltimore for $250,000 office renovation and inappropriate credit card spending

By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

6:53 PM EDT, May 30, 2013

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The Baltimore school system said Thursday that it will review all contracts awarded by a former chief information technology officer after school officials in Dallas said he could face a federal indictment stemming from his tenure in the Atlanta public school system.

Jerome Oberlton was forced to resign as chief of staff in the Dallas Independent School District this week after informing Superintendent Mike Miles that he was the target of a federal investigation, according to a statement from the Dallas school district.

Miles didn't specify in his statement whether Oberlton explained the nature of the investigation but said it involved activity in 2006. Officials with the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta could not be reached to comment.

Oberlton, whose $250,000 office renovation and questionable credit card expenditures came under fire in the months before he left his Baltimore post in January, did not return calls for comment Thursday. Oberlton headed for Dallas after a nearly two-year stint in Baltimore.

Miles said he was "shocked and disappointed when I was told of the allegations" by Oberlton. He said the district did a thorough background check that included speaking with his former employers. Miles also said he would ask the Dallas school district to conduct an audit of Oberlton's activity. The Dallas Morning News first reported Oberlton's resignation.

Baltimore school officials said that they would respond to any allegations "on the basis of the specifics and facts," and emphasized that an indictment has not been issued.

However, school officials said they would begin reviewing Oberlton's work to ensure compliance with procurement and ethics policies that require contracts be competitively bid and undergo "multiple, officer-level internal reviews."

"As a matter of due diligence, and to confirm that there was in fact full compliance with both procurement and ethics policies, we are reviewing all technology contracts awarded during Oberlton's employment with city schools," the district said in a statement. "Additionally, the matter has been referred to our general counsel for ongoing monitoring."

Oberlton came to Baltimore in March 2011 from the private sector, with high praise for his long career working as an education technology consultant to large school districts and his tenure as chief information technology officer for Atlanta's public schools.

In Baltimore's announcement of his appointment to the $160,000-a-year job, the district quoted a chief strategy officer who worked with Oberlton in Atlanta as saying that he "insisted on quality and documentation, and really the accountability of everyone."

City school officials said he was credited with transforming Atlanta's IT department into a "customer-centric, process-oriented solution center focused on improving overall district productivity and cutting district costs."

In his nearly two-year stint in Baltimore, Oberlton came under fire after two Baltimore Sun investigations found questionable spending in his office.

The first was $250,000 used to outfit Oberlton's executive suite in the basement of the central office, at a time when the district was lobbying lawmakers for billions of dollars to fix the system's crumbling school buildings. While Oberlton said that he did the renovation for health and safety reasons and to attract qualified candidates to the district, city schools officials said it was "a bad judgment call."

Months later, the school district forced Oberlton to pay back $5,000 in credit card expenditures incurred by his office, for purchases at retail stores such as Bath & Body Works and Walmart to buy snacks, refreshments, gifts and decorations for holiday banquets, birthdays and baby shower celebrations.

Other charges he incurred included a $7,300 retreat, a $500 dinner at the Inner Harbor's Fogo de Chao and a $500 quarterly meeting for staff at Paradise Indian Cuisine. He was not required to repay those expenses.

During Oberlton's tenure with the city, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Council of the Great City Schools' Chief Information Officers.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG