Baltimore County schools parents express concern over Dallas Dance investigation

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Some parents expressed concern Monday that a former Baltimore County school superintendent is being investigated in connection with his relationship with a company that did business with the school system.

“Children learn to lead from their leaders and this is a huge disappointment,” said Yara Cheikh, a parent activist. “Families need to know that our school system is working for the best possible outcomes for children and not profit.”

Numerous other parents and teachers commented on Facebook pages, expressing anger and criticizing the school board for having given Dance a second, four-year contract.

The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation of Dance more than six months ago, issuing a subpoena for school system records, and this month several people associated with the system were interviewed by investigators, sources said.

The investigation was well under way, sources said, when Dance announced in April that he was resigning as superintendent with three years left on his four-year contract. He offered no reason but later cited the burdens of the job.

According to sources, state prosecutors have been delving into Dance’s involvement with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Illinois-based company that trained principals in school districts across the country, including Baltimore County. The sources spoke to The Baltimore Sun on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. No one has been charged in connection with the investigation.

In 2014, school system ethics officials ruled that Dance had violated ethics rules by taking a part time job with SUPES after the company got an $875,000 contract with the Baltimore County school system. The school board didn’t know Dance was working for SUPES until The Baltimore Sun wrote an article about the arrangement in December 2013.

Dance said after the ethics ruling that he should have exercised better judgment. “I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I realize that the relationship did create a conflict,” he said.

State legislative auditors later faulted the school system for not seeking a competitive bid before hiring the company.

SUPES Academy first came under scrutiny in Chicago when federal investigators looked at its dealings with the Chicago school system. In 2015, a co-owner of SUPES Academy and a former Chicago school superintendent were indicted on corruption charges. In part, the SUPES official was accused of offering bribes to the superintendent, who allegedly agreed to accept them. Both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison this year.

Sen. James Brochin, a Democrat representing Baltimore County, expressed his disappointment that Dance is the subject of a criminal investigation.

“If it turns out to be true, it is very disappointing. I just think when you get into public service it is supposed to be that,” said Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Cheikh said the investigation raises questions about “the validity and ethics of other contracts negotiated” under Dance’s tenure.

Abby Beytin, president of the Teacher’s Association of Baltimore County, said she has no way of knowing whether Dance will be found to have done something wrong, and that there should be a presumption that he is innocent.

“If they feel there is something there, then they should be exploring it.”

School activists in Virginia on Monday called into question a contract that Dance had in Richmond that began several days after he left Baltimore County. Dance was hired by the Richmond public schools under a contract that critics say the Richmond school system should have made public. And officials should have sought the approval of the school board, critics said.

The Richmond school district paid Dance $25,000 in July and August to help an interim superintendent while the district sought a permanent replacement.

“As an experienced superintendent, Dance provided leadership and instructional advice,” the district said in a statement.

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