Baltimore County politicians decry state school chief's decision to block White's appointment

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

A group of Baltimore County politicians on Thursday expressed outrage at state schools chief Karen Salmon’s decision to block the appointment of Verletta White as superintendent, saying it was an “egregious” overreach into local control of schools.

“We have a right to decide who our superintendent is,” said County Council chairman Julian Jones, pointing out that 52 cents of every county tax dollar goes to schools. The Democrat from Woodstock said it is “outrageous to step in and negate everything that has happened here.”

After the county school board voted 8-4 two weeks ago to give White a four-year contract, Salmon declined to approve the appointment, citing White’s ethics violations and the fact that an audit of school system contracts has not yet been started.

Gathered on the lawn of school system headquarters Thursday, the group of politicians said they wanted Salmon to reconsider her position, and “that there are some looking at the legal aspects” because they believed the decision was arbitrary. Others acknowledged Salmon may have the legal right to do what she did and they could be powerless to overturn her decision.

It is rare for a state superintendent to intervene in the process, although the state Department of Education contends she is on solid legal ground in doing so.

State Del. Stephen Lafferty, a Democrat from Towson, said he found it unusual that Salmon did not talk to the county school board chair about the details of the ethics violations or where it stood in the process of starting the audit.

She “skipped an important beat in her decision making,” Lafferty said.

Salmon also didn’t contact local legislators, they said.

A spokeswoman for Salmon said the superintendent was not available for comment.

Adrienne Jones, the speaker pro tem of the Maryland House of Delegates, said she was disappointed in Salmon’s decision because she thought the county school board — left stung by its former superintendent’s conviction on four counts of perjury and jail sentence — was just beginning to calm down.

The board’s decision to appoint White would provide consistency going forward, Jones said, “Then we get zinged yesterday by the superintendent’s decision.”

Jones questioned whether Salmon had read the school board’s report on White’s ethics violations before making her decision, and said White was a good choice because she “truly cares about the students.”

White was found to have violated two ethics rules, by taking consulting money and not reporting it on her financial disclosure forms for four years, and by using her position as chief academic officer to make money. White said she made a mistake in filling out the forms because they were confusing, a finding the school board’s ethics panel agreed with. White said she would no longer take consulting work.

Following the resignation of Superintendent Dallas Dance last year, the board gave White a one-year contract to serve as interim superintendent. That term is up on June 30.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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