I have a great mother-in-law. She is a source of boundless love and fun for my kids, and a resource for advice on topics from algebra (a retired math teacher) to zoology (an avid birder). And she never interjects herself forcefully in to the carefully-deliberated decisions my wife and I make regarding our family, despite what, at times must be a great desire to do so.
She might make a suggestion here or there, but she’ll always have the facts in hand first. She knows that we will be led by our principles and values to good decisions, and that we know we can ask for help when we need it.
Karen Salmon, judging from her record as an educator, may have been a good mother (metaphorically speaking), but she is not a great mother-in-law.
On April 17th, the Baltimore County Board of Education, by a two-thirds majority, made the considered decision to appoint then-interim superintendent Verletta White as superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) on a permanent basis. In doing so, the board elected to forgo a costly national search of the sort that, in the past, has yielded mixed — sometimes horrible — results. Having seen Ms. White perform the duties of running a school system of more than 113,000 students and nearly 18,000 employees as interim superintendent for a year, the board made the good choice to promote from within, save thousands of dollars and hours and appointed Ms. White to head the system to which she has dedicated more than 20 years of her career.
The system found the leader for its future in its past, and was set on firm footing to move from its recent troubles to an exciting future.
Then, the mother-in-law showed up.
Last week, State School Superintendent Karen Salmon, acting on what seems to be incomplete or misunderstood information, refused to approve Ms. White as superintendent of BCPS, acting at the urging of a small but disproportionately loud minority of BCPS stakeholders — including the members of the board whose obstructionist efforts had failed and who were now resorting to independent action outside the mandate of their offices.
Ms. Salmon, who was hired by a state school board populated with a majority of appointments by Gov. Larry Hogan, cited an erosion of public trust related to Ms. White’s well-publicized technical violation of financial disclosure rules and, oddly, to an incomplete audit of BCPS procurement practices by previous superintendent Dallas Dance.
Despite these misgivings, Ms. Salmon suggested that a request for a year-long extension of Ms. White’s interim status would be approved, giving the county board time to conduct a national search for a replacement — a search that a two-thirds majority of the county board already deemed risky and unnecessary.
Ms. Salmon made these life-changing decisions without having all the facts in hand.
An ethics panel reviewing Ms. White’s disclosure infraction found that she had violated several policies and misused the “prestige of office” for personal gain. The panel further found that “the Financial Disclosure Statement” Ms. White is required to complete “is confusing and unclear as to what is necessary to be disclosed.”
Ms. White proposed remedies — including severing ties with a particular company, amending disclosure forms, and forgoing consulting work while in the office of superintendent — that the panel found sufficient to “assure the public that the conduct of public business is not subject to improper influence or the appearance of improper influence and that Whitess impartiality and independent judgment will be maintained.” Members recommended that the county school board accept Ms. White’s proposal, which they did.
The report was confidential, and Ms. Salmon presumably did not have access to it. Still, she apparently thought she knew what was best for the county regarding the disclosure concern. (Ms. White has since publicly released the report herself.)
Further, Ms. Salmon pointed to an ongoing audit of procurement practices under Mr. Dance, who is currently incarcerated for lying about tens of thousands of dollars he received on the side for consulting work. Now, this really makes no sense, unless there’s some unspoken political need to continue to tie Ms. White to Mr. Dance — and by extension to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a potential challenger to Governor Hogan. This audit can only provide information on Mr. Dance’s actions and will yield nothing new on Ms. White’s lengthy education record.
It’s time for Ms. Salmon to admit she acted precipitously and without all the facts and go home.
The county board acted with deliberation and in line with the results of a thorough review of Ms. White’s actions. Chairman Ed Gilliss and the majority-vote county board members should request that State Superintendent Salmon reconsider her decision to interject, and approve Verletta White as permanent superintendent.
Pete Fitzpatrick is a candidate for Baltimore County Board of Education in District 1, which covers Southwestern Baltimore County. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: PeteForEd.