Candidates in Baltimore County’s first-ever school board election this year have been handed a campaign issue: Could the current board have done more to limit former superintendent Dallas Dance’s private consulting work?
A Baltimore County grand jury indicted Dance this week on four charges of perjury for failing to report what the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office says was nearly $147,000 in income from speeches and appearances across the nation. He earned $90,000 of that from a company that got a no-bid contract from the school system, prosecutors said in the indictment.
“Obviously, what’s happened with Dance illustrates the need for more oversight of the superintendent by the board,” said Edward Kitlowski, a retired county teacher running for school board from the Loch Hill area. “Not just for contracts but also for curriculum ideas, grading systems and other policies.”
He said one of the board’s most important roles is to hold the superintendent accountable.
His opponent, Lily Rowe, president of the Greater Hillendale Community Association, noted that the board was aware for years that Dance was supplementing his $287,000 salary with consulting work that took him all over the nation.
The school system’s ethics panel twice reprimanded Dance for failing to disclose other part-time work. Dance announced his resignation from the school district April 18 and left his position at the end of June, with three years remaining on his contract. The Maryland State Prosecutor’s office had already begun its investigation when he announced his departure.
“When the board was reviewing the renewal of his contract [in 2016], they already knew Dance was engaged in the practices he got indicted for,” Rowe said. “The majority of the board stood together and squashed any kind of questioning of Dance by making it seem that anyone who was asking questions was a racist attacking a black man.”
William Feuer, a board candidate from Dundalk, said the majority of the board appeared to ignore concerns from the members raising concerns.
“I am not privy to the closed session meetings of the board but what I see from reading the minutes and attending the meetings is a lack of accountability in decision making,” Feuer said. “A conscientious minority attempted to ensure proper oversight and transparency but were hindered by the majority vote of the board. There is a reason this school board is finally integrating an elected position component.”
Board member Ann Miller, one of the frequent critic of Dance, said she agreed with the criticism.
“There were enough questions over the past five years to prompt due diligence,” she told The Baltimore Sun this week. “Unfortunately the board failed to act accordingly every step of the way.”
School board chair Edward J. Gilliss said in an email to The Sun on Wednesday night that he personally believes that Dance is “fully entitled — as are we all — to allow the justice system’s process to afford opportunities for all to be heard.”
“Although some may disagree, we should not rush to justice on the charges against Dr. Dance,” Gilliss said. “I believe that the Baltimore County School Board has been a positive steward of the trust placed in it by its elected officials on behalf of the community.
“I do not believe that this Baltimore County School Board has failed in pursuing its assignment,” he added. “Instead, I believe it has accepted its assigned volunteer tasks and has honestly shouldered those responsibilities.”
The board, he said, establishes standards for oversight and can only ask for compliance, not guarantee it with subpoena power like prosecutors can.
“There are reasons that our system has compliance entities such as prosecutors,” Gilliss said. “Those roles should not be imposed upon community governance entities such as school boards.”
Dance has not returned calls for comment.
The nonpartisan board election — in which candidates could appear on June primary ballots in each of the seven County Council districts — will usher in a new era for the Baltimore County Board of Education. The currently all-appointed board will switch to a hybrid with seven elected members — one from each district — four members appointed by the governor, and a student member.
“With an elected school board there will be more agreement on holding the superintendent accountable,” Rowe said.
She said the board must do more to oversee school system contracts, especially those awarded without competitive bidding.
In the indictment filed Tuesday, prosecutors said Dance began earning $90,000 from SUPES Academy a week before the school board approved a Dance-recommended contract worth $875,000 to the Chicago firm.
Two of the perjury counts against him involve an alleged failure to report income from SUPES and an affiliated firm.
Prosecutors said Dance also failed to disclose that he was a paid consultant for Education Research & Development Institute. The company, known as ERDI, pays superintendents to meet with its paid roster of education technology firms, including companies that have school district contracts. Prosecutors alleged Dance committed perjury for failing to disclose that ERDI paid him $4,608.
Verletta White, the district’s chief academic officer under Dance, was also a paid consultant for ERDI, The Sun reported last year. For four years White was paid about $3,000 per year for ERDI but never disclosed the payments to the school system or the public. White repeatedly filed required county disclosure forms stating she earned no outside income.
White, now interim superintendent, has apologized for what she called an oversight and said she would amend her financial disclosure forms. She has not been charged with any crime.
The Sun also reported that Dance traveled extensively all over the nation, sometimes with White and other school officials, to give speeches, attend conferences and advise ERDI’s clients. Successive school board chairmen were aware of the travel.
White, who became interim superintendent when Dance resigned at the end of June, has said she will publish all travel that she and other top executives conduct as part of their positions.
School board candidate Matt Gresick, a Catonsville resident, said he supports that move.
“As a board member I’m going to do my best to promote as much transparency as possible,” Gresick said. “We need to work on rebuilding trust that this unfortunate incident erodes.”
Gresick said Dance’s indictment made him “angry and upset.” But he said he would not use that anger to generate support on the campaign trail.
“My primary focus has always been the students,” he said.
Former Randallstown High School Principal Cheryl Pasteur, running for the school board from Pikesville, said she had to file a financial disclosure form with the school system ethics panel. She said she can not understand why Dance would not report what the form requires, especially after he was reprimanded twice by the board’s ethics panel.
The disclosure “was grueling,” Pasteur said, “but it is not unclear and not over one’s head.
“I spent a lot of time talking to Dallas Dance. I’m very disappointed in him.”
But she said she is not sure what more the board could have done, given that the ethics panel forced Dance to disclose more of his work.
She said the process works only if officials are honest.
“Unless you are in his brain you really don’t have a sense of whether he is being truthful or not,” Pasteur said. “The board did the best that it could. It’s really easy to say I would certainly do better. But at the end of the day it falls one place. Let it fall on Dance.”
She said White’s reputation should not be sullied because she was Dance’s “right-hand person.”
“With Verletta White we’re moving into the sunlight,” she said. “Let’s just deal with the facts and leave her out of it. Let [Dance] carry that weight.”