Former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance indicted on 4 counts of perjury

Former Baltimore County school superintendent Dallas Dance was indicted Tuesday on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose nearly $147,000 in pay he received for private consulting with several companies and school districts beginning in 2012, the Maryland State Prosecutor announced.

The four-count indictment handed down by a Baltimore County grand jury alleges the former superintendent falsely stated on financial disclosure forms filed with the county school district that he earned no additional income personally or through his consulting company, Deliberate Excellence, in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Each perjury count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. Dance is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on Feb. 12.

The charges allege he negotiated a no-bid contract between the school system and Chicago-based SUPES Academy in 2012 while he was earning approximately $90,000 from the company without telling the school system.

“Parents of Baltimore County Public School students should be able to trust that their Superintendent of Schools is carrying out his duties, honestly, with transparency and in the best interest of the students and the schools,” state Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said Tuesday. “Any violation of that trust is intolerable.”

Dance did not respond to a request for comment. His lawyers, Andrew Graham and Michelle Lipkowitz, declined to comment.

The indictment alleges that while he was superintendent Dance failed to disclose payments he was getting from school districts in South Carolina, California, Rhode Island and New York. It also said he failed to disclose payments from other entities — including the Educational Research and Development Institute, a company that represents educational technology firms seeking to get contracts from school districts including Baltimore County.

The Baltimore Sun reported in November that Dance did not report on mandatory disclosure forms income he received from ERDI in 2014 and 2015.

Interim Superintendent Verletta White also worked as a consultant for the company for four years without disclosing the payments to the school system or the public, The Sun reported. White repeatedly filed county disclosure forms stating she earned no outside income while working as the school system’s chief academic officer, the position she held from 2013 until she was named interim superintendent last year.

White acknowledged when asked by The Sun that she earned about $3,000 a year for attending twice-yearly conferences where she gave advice to ERDI’s clients. She later apologized to the school system and pledged not to accept payments for outside work.

Baltimore County school employees submit annual financial disclosure forms in which they affirm under penalty of perjury that the information is accurate. The forms are designed to assure the public and the school board that school officials are not involved in financial matters that could present a conflict of interest.

White has not been charged with any crime.

In a statement Tuesday, White said, “We are surprised and saddened to hear about the charges against former superintendent Dallas Dance. It is important to note, there are no accusations of wrongdoing by the current administration or me. I have full confidence in the integrity of our staff and organization as a whole.”

Dance, 36, abruptly resigned as superintendent of the nation’s 25th largest school system on April 18, citing the toll of the job on his family. It later emerged he was under investigation at the time by the state prosecutor.

The young, charismatic leader took over Baltimore County schools in July 2012 with a mandate for change. He quickly went to work disrupting the status quo by imposing uniform high school schedules, rewriting the curriculum to include the use of laptops, and persuading the school board to approve multi-million dollar contracts for educational software. He also focused more attention and funding on the lowest performing schools.

His contract was renewed in 2016, and Dance was in the first year of the four-year pact when he resigned last spring. He was earning a $287,000 annually. The school board appointed White, the chief academic officer, interim superintendent.

“I, personally, am saddened to learn of the State Prosecutor’s actions against Dr. Dance,” said Baltimore County school board chair Edward J. Gilliss in a statement. “It is my hope that the board continues to look forward and that today’s news does not have the unintended consequence of derailing BCPS’s progress.”

Other officials responded to the news of Dance’s indictment with expressions of disappointment.

“These allegations, if true, are not only extremely disappointing, but inexcusable,” Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who supported the superintendent during his tenure, said in a statement.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s press secretary Shareese Churchill said the governor “has made very clear, corruption and the lack of accountability in our school systems will not be tolerated.” She noted that Hogan is pushing legislation to create an independent unit to investigate allegations of ethical violations by school officials.

Document: Dallas Dance indictment »

The county teachers union president, Abby Beyton, said she will assume Dance is innocent until he is proven guilty.

“If it is true then he deserves whatever comes his way,” Beyton said. “We have never had anything like this in Baltimore County and I don’t want to ever see it again.”

Baltimore County PTA president Jayne Lee expressed concern that the controversy will distract district leaders from addressing classroom issues. “It is disheartening because our school system is going to be dragged through the mud,” she said.

Ann Miller, a member of the county school board who has been critical of Dance, said she was “saddened and concerned with the indictment but not shocked.”

“There were enough questions over the past five years to prompt due diligence,” Miller said. “Unfortunately the board failed to act accordingly every step of the way.”

Baltimore County school ethics officials ruled in 2014 that Dance had violated ethics rules by taking a part-time job with SUPES training principals in Chicago. The ethics officials again reprimanded Dance in November 2016, ruling that he had violated financial disclosure rules by not initially reporting the $79,000 he received as an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond and for not reporting he had created a limited-liability corporation in 2012.

In October, The Sun reported that Dance had routinely traveled while superintendent to out-of-state education conferences at a cost of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

One of the trips was to the Richland County School District in South Carolina. The Sun reported that in 2015 Dance had received $5,768 from Richland for being a “training and keynote speaker” and hadn’t disclosed the payment as required. Tuesday’s indictment states that Dance failed to report the $5,768 payment on his financial disclosure form despite knowing he had earned the income.

State prosecutors more than a year ago began delving into Dance’s involvement with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Illinois-based company that trained principals in school districts across the country, including in Baltimore County.

Shortly after Dance became superintendent, the county school board approved, at his request, an $875,000 no-bid contract with SUPES to train Baltimore County principals.

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

SUPES Academy came to the attention of federal investigators in Chicago several years ago. In 2015, a co-owner of SUPES and the former Chicago school superintendent, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, were indicted on corruption charges.

Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and admitted she had steered more than $23 million in no-bid contracts to SUPES. In return she received tickets to sporting events and meals and promises of kickbacks.

The SUPES official, Gary Solomon, was convicted and sentenced to seven years for his part in offering thousands of dollars to Byrd-Bennett for her help in getting millions in contracts for his company. Byrd-Bennett was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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