Several months after the Baltimore County school system signed an $875,000 contract with a professional development company in Illinois, Superintendent Dallas Dance took a part-time job with that company to coach Chicago school principals.
Dance is allowed under his employment contract to do private consulting work with prior approval of the school board as long as it does not interfere with the superintendent's job. However, Dance acknowledged in an interview Friday that he had not yet sought the board's approval, even though he took the job with SUPES Academy over the summer.
Dance's second job prompted questions about the propriety of his working for a company that does business with the school system, training its principals. It also raised concerns about the superintendent taking the time to train educators in other states when Baltimore County schools are undergoing changes that have drawn complaints from teachers.
Baltimore County school board member Michael Collins said Dance's outside contract "sounds as if it is something that ought to be thoroughly investigated by the full board to determine the propriety of this type of activity for the superintendent to be undertaking."
Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties, questioned the ethics of the arrangement. "It is a conflict of interest ... and does not pass the smell test," he said.
The Baltimore County school board approved the contract with SUPES in December 2012 to train about 25 county principals a year over the next three years. Dance went to work for SUPES in August and is now coaching 10 principals in the Chicago public schools.
Baltimore County school board President Lawrence Schmidt, who didn't know about Dance's consulting work until recently, said the panel plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting Tuesday. Because the issue involves a personnel matter, he said, the board would talk with Dance about it behind closed doors.
"We decided to put it on the agenda and discuss it and come out with some position on behalf of the entire board," Schmidt said.
Dance said he doesn't believe it was inappropriate for him to do consulting work for SUPES because he got the job after the contract with the district was signed.
Dance said he did not obtain the prior approval of the school board because he believed he only needed to report on any outside work to the board annually, which he said he would do next May.
Dance said he plans to donate $10,000 of the $15,000 he is earning from SUPES to the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools, a nonprofit that raises money for the schools, to create a college scholarship for one or more graduates from the Class of 2013-2014. He said the rest would go to pay for his travel expenses to and from Chicago.
Joe Hairston, a former Baltimore County superintendent, and Chris Johns, a former Baltimore County administrator, are also working for SUPES to train administrators.
Dance's arrangement with SUPES was first reported by Catalyst Chicago, a publication that covers the Chicago public schools. Catalyst reported that SUPES had received a $20 million no-bid contract with the Chicago public schools for training.
That the Chicago contract was approved without a bid process raised red flags. "We're investigating the sole-source contract issue," James Sullivan, the inspector general for Chicago public schools, said in an interview.
Baltimore County did not seek bids for the training contract. Instead, the county "piggy-backed" onto an existing contract between SUPES and the St. Louis school district, Schmidt said. School districts sometimes use that process to negotiate a better price.
Dance was trained by SUPES in 2011, when he was an administrator in Houston public schools and was looking to become a superintendent. In 2012, the Baltimore County school board hired him. He makes $260,000 a year.
Dance defended his work with SUPES, saying that he travels to Chicago just one Saturday each month and that discussions with principals in Chicago schools help him understand the work in urban systems as well as give him ideas on ways to improve Baltimore County schools.
"My full commitment is to Baltimore County," he said, adding that if he is asked to do anything that takes his focus away from Baltimore County schools, "I am not going to do it."
Collins said he wants the full school board to determine "whether this type of activity is allowable under the contract he has signed with the Board of Education or if it violates any professional or ethical standards of superintendents."
Collins said he also wants to know whether Dance's absences interfere in any way with his duties and obligations to Baltimore County students and teachers. "It is important that our students come first," he said.