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Baltimore County school system shredded more than 2,500 financial disclosure statements, records show

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school system this year destroyed more than 2,500 financial disclosure statements of top administrators, principals, school board members and others, the district’s destruction records show.

A “Certificate of Records Destruction,” which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Maryland Public Information Act request, shows that most of the financial disclosure statements — nearly 2,400 — were destroyed April 27. Another 200 statements were destroyed Aug. 1.

School board president Edward Gilliss and administrators have defended the destruction of the records, saying it was legal and in line with a written policy that allows documents to be destroyed after four years. Officials said the documents were piling up and more space would be needed before the next batch was filed. The destruction of documents was first reported in The Baltimore Post.

“The removal of these forms was accomplished within the bounds of the law and without any aim to shield any information from review,” school system attorney Margaret-Ann F. Howie wrote in a letter to the board last month.

But school system officials acknowledged the destruction was poorly timed. The bulk of the records were destroyed on the day that the school system’s former superintendent, Dallas Dance, reported to jail after pleading guilty to perjury for lying on financial disclosure forms. The destruction also came as the district was about to undergo an external audit of school district contracts.

After learning of the destruction of documents, the school board directed system employees last month not to destroy any more documents or emails.

Once a year, high-level school officials, including school board members, must fill out forms that disclose whether they have any financial interests with companies that do business with the school system. They also must disclose what companies or institutions employed them during the prior year. The requirement is aimed at making sure school leaders do not take actions or votes that are not in the best interest of the school children.

The documents destroyed April 27 included financial disclosure forms that dated as far back as the late 1990s and up to 2013, according to the log. Among them were the disclosure forms of now-interim Superintendent Verletta White, who previously served as the district’s chief academic officer and a principal.

The documents destroyed Aug. 1 included disclosure forms submitted in 2014.

Not included in the destruction were Dance’s disclosure forms. In pleading guilty to perjury, a criminal misdemeanor, Dance admitted to falsely stating on his financial disclosure forms that he earned no money from a consulting company in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

On Friday, White said she was made aware of the destruction of documents after it had been done.

“I did not direct that any documents be destroyed.” she said.

White said it is her understanding that the destruction of the records did not have an impact on the external audit being conducted.

Some board members and education advocates want to make sure no other school system records are destroyed in case there were some irregularities.

Asked if she believed the destruction of documents was an attempt to hide something, school board member Ann Miller said, “I have no idea and am not [ascribing] motives.”

“The board has a duty to protect records for the audit, future phases of the audit, and any possible other investigations that may result from any audit findings,” Miller said.

On Aug. 21, the school board voted to direct all 22,000 school system employees to stop getting rid of any school documents, including emails. Some board members considered trying to vote to limit the directive.

That led Miller and three other board members — Kathleen Causey, Julie Henn and Roger Hayden — to file a complaint with state officials to keep the broad directive in place. The state has not taken any action in response to the four board members’ request.

A majority of the board voted on Tuesday to limit the directive, so that only 37 top administrators — executive directors and above — are required to save their school system documents and emails.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lizbowie

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