We have no doubt that former Baltimore County superintendent Dallas Dance was good at keeping in touch by text and email and cell phones. There is also no question that he was a presence in the district, meeting with students, shaking hands at graduations and attending school board meetings late into the night. But we’re also pretty sure that county taxpayers would not have been happy to know that he was out of state for fully one-third of the school days in 2016, a year in which he was paid $275,000.
We know Mr. Dance made some mistakes during his tenure here, including failures to properly disclose outside employment and income, some of which are apparently part of an investigation by the State Prosecutor’s Office. Whether that probe has anything to do with his travels, we don’t know, but the two things together raise questions about whether he was as focused as he should have been on his day job.
That is not to say that Mr. Dance appeared to be a distant or distracted leader. We supported the renewal of Mr. Dance’s contract in 2016 and lamented his decision to leave this spring, believing he understood the needs of the system and was properly focused on the imperative to bring equity to all schools and students. He was, by that point, not only the energetic, charismatic man who came to run the district at the incredibly young age of 30 in 2012 but a more seasoned leader with a detailed knowledge of the sprawling, diverse district.
Whether he could have been a better leader if he was in his office more, we can’t say, nor is it possible to evaluate whether his frequent travels to speak at educational conferences from coast to coast allowed him to bring new ideas and perspectives to Baltimore County — or whether they merely bolstered his post-Baltimore County career prospects.
But the fact that those questions weren’t asked while Mr. Dance was here and are unanswerable now is exactly the point. A succession of school board chiefs signed off on his travels, but the public had no idea of their extent until The Sun’s Liz Bowie and Doug Donovan uncovered the details through a Maryland Public Information Act request. If these out-of-state trips had been publicly disclosed, we have no doubt they would have led to a robust debate about whether they added value to the students of Baltimore County or just increased Mr. Dance’s national reputation as a leader in education technology. At the very least, they would have forced Mr. Dance and the board to justify spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on them.
For better or worse, Mr. Dance is gone now, and his interim successor, Verletta White, says she intends to limit her out-of-district travel to focus on visiting schools — certainly a smart move for someone who wants to get the job permanently. Nonetheless, the school board should make it a policy to publicly post the details of the superintendent’s work-related travels. That way, teachers, parents and taxpayers can decide for themselves whether the district’s leader is sufficiently present.
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