Baltimore County Council seeks audit of school tech contracts

The Baltimore County Council is asking state auditors to review county school system contracts with education technology companies in the wake of allegations against former superintendent Dallas Dance related to money he received for consultant work.

All seven members of the council signed a letter Wednesday asking for a review of no-bid contracts that were signed between 2012 and 2017.

The county school system has faced growing calls for an audit of contracts and consulting work since Dance was indicted this month on perjury charges for allegedly failing to report nearly $147,000 in income he earned as a private consultant.

Some of Dance’s payments came from the Education Research & Development Institute, a company that represents education technology firms that have won millions of dollars’ worth of no-bid contracts with the school system.

Dance’s replacement, interim Superintendent Verletta White, also was paid by ERDI for consulting work.

In the letter to the General Assembly’s Joint Audit Committee, the county council asks for an audit of the no-bid technology contracts, including the way the firms were selected, and “ancillary costs” such as “travel, professional development, perks/promotions, and other financial transactions deemed appropriate.”

The request covers the years that Dance was superintendent.

“I maintain the utmost support and respect for Ms. Verletta White’s ability to run the schools,” said Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat. “We just thought it was necessary to weigh in and ask the legislative committee to audit those particular areas where there were no-bid contracts.”

Jones said council members have heard from constituents concerned about the arrangements between the tech companies and the school system.

“There are these concerns out there,” he said. “We give the schools 52 cents of every tax dollar. We want to make sure the funds are spent wisely and properly.”

Jayne Lee, president of the Baltimore County PTA Council, said she supports a state audit. She said the PTA has long had concerns over the amount of money spent on student laptops — an initiative Dance championed — and the fact that some of the contracts were no-bid.

“The amount they were paying for the computers was exorbitant,” she said. “It has been a chief concern of ours for some time.”

State legislative auditors already review school systems periodically, and could consider an additional audit of specific school system contracts.

Del. C. William Frick, co-chairman of the Joint Audit Committee, said he hadn’t seen Baltimore County’s letter, but would discuss it with committee members and the audit staff.

“We would take it under consideration,” the Montgomery County Democrat said.

White could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She said last week that she would support any audit of the school system.

“There is nothing to hide, so I would be open to any kind of audit,” she said Friday while meeting with state senators in Annapolis. “We will do what we need to do to restore public trust.”

White initiated an audit in September, but some — including four members of the county school board and several county senators and delegates in Annapolis — have said it isn’t extensive enough.

Some have suggested the state school board should conduct an audit, but state officials have said they would only do an audit if the county paid for it and it was requested by top county leaders.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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