Baltimore County school board says Verletta White violated ethics rules

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school board found Interim Superintendent Verletta White violated ethics rules, but voted not to take any action against her.

In a statement issued late Friday, the school board said that its Ethics Review Panel found White violated provisions of the ethics rules by failing to disclose consulting fees from the Education Research & Development Institute, a company that represents education technology companies.

She also violated an ethics policy by accepting money for participating in an ERDI program as a school official.

The school board statement said the ethics panel found that the wording on the financial disclosure reports was “confusing and unclear as to whether consulting fees, such as the type received by White, were required to be reported.”

The board said it accepted White’s “solution” to the ethics violation, which was to amend her financial disclosure forms, agree not to be associated with ERDI in any way, and agree not to do any consulting work. She committed to taking those actions last fall.

The school system statement said the board believes the solution “should assure the public that the conduct of public business is not subject to improper influence or the appearance of improper influence and that White’s impartiality and independent judgment will be maintained.”

White said she is pleased that the matter has been resolved. “As I have said, it was an honest mistake,” she said.

White acknowledged in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in November that she had attended ERDI seminars where she met in a small group with education technology companies seeking advice on product development. She received between $1,500 and $3,000 a year to attend the seminars once or twice a year over four years.

Some of ERDI’s clients do business with the school system.

Heather Bergan, a parent of a seventh- and ninth-grader in Baltimore county public schools, filed a six-page complaint against White in November with the school board’s ethics panel.

The complaint alleged White violated rules by not reporting ERDI income as well as a general provision that advises school officials to avoid “even the appearance of improper influence.” The complaint also stated that White violated a conflicts-of-interest provision that prohibits school officials from participating in “any matter” with businesses that have overlapping financial interests with companies that have school contracts.

ERDI does not have a contract with Baltimore County Public Schools, but it sets up meetings between superintendents and companies that either do hold contracts or are seeking them.

Bergan said she was disappointed with the outcome of her complaint.

“I would have liked to have seen further action other than just saying you can fix it and it is just fine,” she said.

“I would like the board to adopt a policy that no highly compensated employee can do any outside consulting work whatsoever, period,” Bergan said. “This happened with Dr. Dance, why didn’t she know that she made a mistake when her boss was brought up on ethics violations for the same thing. I don’t understand.”

Former Superintendent Dallas Dance was found to have violated a similar ethics provision in 2013. Last month, a Baltimore County grand jury indicted Dance on four counts of perjury for not reporting more than $145,000 in income over four years, including $90,000 in one year from a company that had a contract with the school system.

The principals in that company — SUPES Academy — are now in prison for bribing the former Chicago school superintendent.

School board chair Edward Gilliss said in the statement that he is glad “this matter has been brought to a close. I continue to have confidence in Mrs. White’s leadership and in her focus on students and staff.”

The board voted on the ethics panel recommendation in an open meeting on Tuesday night, but did not make public what the members were voting on.

Three members voted not to accept the panel’s recommendation.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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