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.
Dance has been overseeing several major changes in the county this year.
Its implementation of a new Common Core curriculum has been marred by difficulties. The Teachers Association of Baltimore County, a union that represents 8,700 teachers, recently filed a grievance saying the problems have forced them to work long hours. Teachers say they did not receive the language arts curriculum for first through 11th grades until shortly before the beginning of the school year, giving them little time to prepare lessons.
On top of the new curriculum, which was mandated by the state, the school district has been trying to implement a new teacher-evaluation system. Dance also is redistricting some school zones, instituting a new high school schedule and putting out a 10-year facilities plan to deal with the school system's outdated infrastructure.
McDonough, the state lawmaker, said that "with all the activity and chaos we have in the school system, to the point where teachers are filing a grievance ... [Dance] has no spare time to be having a second job."
Given all the changes that are taking place, McDonough said, the superintendent should be spending "100 percent of his time" focused on the county's schools. To take a consulting contract, he said, showed "lack of sensitivity."
Dance said he pays regular visits to Baltimore County schools, including three on Friday, and that he is in frequent contact with principals. He noted that the SUPES coaching is designed so that "the person you are talking to is not your evaluator."
Dance said he sought SUPES training last school year for principals in the county system because he realized that 56 principals could retire at the end of the year. The SUPES Academy trained 30 assistant principals this year who wanted to be promoted. Of that group, he said, 25 became principals.
He hopes to train a similar number of principals in the next two years through SUPES. According to the contract, the company provides seven days of instruction to principal candidates. It begins with intensive two-day training, followed by one day a month for five consecutive months.
2011: Dallas Dance is trained by SUPES Academy while he is working as an administrator in Houston public schools.
July 2012: Dance takes over as superintendent for Baltimore County schools.
December 2012: The Baltimore County school board approves an $875,000 contract with SUPES Academy to train 25 principals a year over three years.
August 2013: Dance goes to work part time for SUPES Academy, training principals in the Chicago public school system.