Ethics panel submits report on Verletta White to Baltimore County school board

The Baltimore County school system’s ethics panel has submitted its investigative findings of a complaint filed against interim superintendent Verletta White for failing to disclose income she earned as a consultant for a Chicago company.

The ethics panel submitted its findings and recommendations to the school board on Monday, a day before a Baltimore County grand jury indicted former superintendent Dallas Dance on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose nearly $147,000 in income he earned as a consultant.

But neither the board nor White has indicated what the panel has recommended.

Mychael Dickerson, White’s chief of staff, said Thursday night he would check to see if the superintendent “wants to share it before the Board votes on the report.”

School board chairman Edward J. Gilliss said the matter is “confidential.”

Heather Bergan, the Baltimore County parent who filed the complaint in November, was notified by the ethics panel by mail this week. She said the notification did not tell her what the panel recommended.

The ethics panel is required to review such complaints. It can either dismiss a complaint or hold a hearing with the subject if it finds a violation. Subjects of complaints such as White can avoid a hearing by offering a “settlement or cure,” including amending her financial disclosure forms to include income she earned from consulting work.

The Baltimore Sun reported in November that for four years White worked as a consultant for a company that represents education technology firms without disclosing the payments to the school system or the public.

White repeatedly filed required 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 became interim superintendent in July after Dance stepped down. But she has acknowledged that from 2013 to last year, she worked as a consultant for Chicago-based Education Research & Development Institute, or ERDI.

She told The Sun she was paid about $3,000 a year to attend twice-a-year conferences where she provided feedback to education technology companies — clients of ERDI — that sell products to school districts.

White sent an email to all school system employees last year in which she said her failure to disclose the income was an “honest mistake” but did not amount to a conflict of interest because ERDI itself does not hold school system contracts.

“When I completed these forms, I was under the impression that I was to only list companies with whom the school system had a contract or a pending contract. I was mistaken,” she wrote in the mail to all school employees. “I will amend them as allowed by policies. I promise each of you that I will not make that mistake again, but more importantly, I will not allow an honest oversight to be misconstrued as something untoward or unethical.”

Dance was also a consultant for ERDI from 2014 through spring of this year, according to company executives. Dance did not report being paid by the firm in 2014 and 2015, school system records show. He did report earning income in 2016 on a form filed April 30, 2017 — two weeks after he announced his resignation from the school district. But he did not say how much he was paid.

The indictment against him after a yearlong investigation by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office alleges he failed to disclose $4,608 he received from ERDI in 2015.

The ethics panel ruled twice before that Dance violated the ethics code for failing to report outside income, including from a job with a company — SUPES Academy — that held a contract with the school system. In both cases, the school board did not impose any penalties against Dance after he amended his disclosure forms and gave up the paid position. The indictment against Dance charges him with two counts of perjury for failing to report nearly $78,000 he earned from SUPES and an affiliated firm in 2012 and 2013.

White has not been charged with any crime.

Bergan, who has two children in public schools in Perry Hall, alleges in her complaint that White violated the ethics code by failing to disclose the ERDI income and a general provision that advises school officials to avoid “even the appearance of improper influence.”

“Given that Ms. White’s predecessor was found to be in violation on two counts just one year ago for similar financial non-disclosure, it stands to reason that Ms. White should have been well aware of her own possible violation and thus had ample time to have corrected her financial disclosure forms over the past year,” Bergan’s complaint stated.

The complaint also said 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.

Though ERDI does not have a contract with Baltimore County Public Schools, it set up meetings between Dance and White and companies that either held contracts or were seeking them.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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