Verletta White backers rally behind Baltimore County school superintendent

On YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, supporters of Baltimore County’s interim school Superintendent Verletta White have been rallying behind the popular home-grown leader as she faces her most pressing public test.

Some even took to one of the oldest platforms for social expression: a public podium. White’s backers attended the Baltimore County school board’s meeting Tuesday night to encourage the panel to give her the superintendent post permanently.

“Ms. White is a steady, calm and strong advocate. I am honored to lead a school under her leadership,” said Hope Baier, principal of Fort Garrison Elementary School. She was among 11 principals, two elected officials, a community association leader and others who signed up to speak on White’s behalf.

Dozens of school system parents have taken to Twitter and Facebook to declare their support for White, praising her as smart, caring and down-to-earth.

“As a parent, she is exactly who I want to lead and advocate for my children and our schools. Any school system would be lucky to have her,” said one in a string of positive comments.

And a YouTube video featuring Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones calls on White’s supporters to pressure the school board to appoint her as the permanent superintendent.

“It’s imperative that we stand up and let the Board of Education know that we would like her to be the next superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools,” Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, says in the video. “She is one of us. She is from our community right here in Baltimore County. She knows more about the school system than anyone.”

The video description includes hashtags — #SheIsUs and #ImWithHer — that have also emerged in posts supporting White. White graduated from Baltimore County schools and has two children who attend county schools.

The rallying to hire White permanently began Nov. 8, when The Baltimore Sun reported that she’d been paid for four years by a company that represents education technology firms without disclosing the payments to the school system. Some of the tech firms have school system contracts.

White “has been overwhelmed by the dozens of emails, texts and calls of support from the system and around the community,” said her chief of staff, Mychael Dickerson. He said Whitehasn’t asked people to speak out in support.”

But the outpouring of support has been encouraged by her staff through their use of the school system’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts and website.

After The Sun’s article, White sent a letter to staff Nov. 9 saying she made an “honest mistake” by not disclosing her work for the Chicago-based Education Research & Development Institute. Dickerson retweeted the school system tweet that posted White’s letter.

“This is what strong and true leadership looks like. @VerlettaWhite is the real deal and anyone who thinks otherwise does not know her. #SheIsUs #ImWithHer,” Dickerson’s tweet said.

About the same time, the school system’s Twitter account posted a video of still shots showing White hugging parents, teachers, students and staff. At the end of the video a text emerged: “Hugger-in-chief.”

The tweet accompanying the video said: “A proud Woodlawn High graduate. A #TeamBCPS teacher, principal, and leader. Have we embraced @VerlettaWhite as our leader? All the hugs, all the standing ovations say yes. #OurBCPSStory.”

The same video was posted on the school system’s Facebook page.

Jones’ video was posted Nov. 16. The councilman said in an interview that he “felt the need to step up and make my voice heard and try to mobilize people.”

“When I see someone like Ms. Verletta White -- someone who’s worked here for 25 years, a student who came through Baltimore County public schools -- I see the complete package,” he said.

Jones said the public should tell the board that it does not support a costly national search to find a four-year replacement for former superintendent Dallas Dance, who resigned at the end of June.

Dance also was paid by ERDI. White said Dance had encouraged her to become a paid consultant for the firm, which brokers meetings between its roster of paid superintendents and education technology companies that pay ERDI to arrange those meetings at twice-yearly conferences.

Dance left his position as superintendent with three years remaining on his $287,000-a-year contract, saying the job was wearing on him. When he resigned, The Sun later reported, he was under investigation by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office for his relationship with SUPES Academy, a company that had a contract with the school system. The investigation is continuing, according to sources.

As interim superintendent, White is being paid $265,000 this school year.

The school board voted unanimously in May to appoint White as interim superintendent for a one-year term that ends June 30. Before then, the board either needs to conduct a search for candidates to run the school system for four years or decide to extend White’s tenure in the position.

The school board has not indicated whether it plans to conduct a search, hire White for the permanent post or extend her interim contract for another year.

Some school system observers say an extension is reasonable because a new, partly elected school board will replace the existing governor-appointed board after next year’s election. The newly configured board should have the chance to select a permanent superintendent, they say.

School board member Ann Miller said deciding now to hire White permanently would be “premature” and “untimely.”

She noted that a county parent has filed a complaint with the school system’s ethics panel about White’s work for ERDI. Making a decision before the ethics complaint is resolved would not look good, she said.

“If the board were to make a hasty decision it would cast a very negative light on our processes and what importance we put on our role as an oversight entity,” Miller said.

Del. Charles Sydnor, a Baltimore County Democrat and parent of two students in county schools, says White’s unsettled job status comes as the race for county executive is heating up.

Sen. James Brochin, a Democratic candidate for executive, wants the state to review the school system’s procurements. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican candidate, has asked the school board to examine White’s work for ERDI.

Sydnor said both demands are “politically motivated.” He said White has already said she made a mistake by not reporting the job, a potential violation he said can be rectified by amending her past financial disclosure statements.

“This is being politicized and the question is, at what cost? The lessons people are pulling out may be the wrong lesson. People make mistakes,” Sydnor said.

He echoed Jones’ support for White. “I think the point he makes about having someone who is a product of the system is valid,” Sydnor added. “She brings something to the table that not a lot of school systems can have.”

Still, Baltimore County PTA President Jayne Lee said she wants the county to go through a search process that includes parents.

And Westowne Elementary School PTA President Justine Stull said many parents want the school system to provide a report on White’s consulting job.

“I think a lot of people who are aware of the controversy and the business ties … would like to see the full information come out before we get super excited about making her permanent,” Stull said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
41°