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Baltimore County School Board expected to launch national superintendent search as some decry delay

Verletta White, interim superintendent of Baltimore County schools, has said she would like to be named permanent superintendent. The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on hiring a firm to conduct a national search to replace Dallas Dance, who resigned last April.
Verletta White, interim superintendent of Baltimore County schools, has said she would like to be named permanent superintendent. The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on hiring a firm to conduct a national search to replace Dallas Dance, who resigned last April. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

With just two-and-a-half months left in the school year, the Baltimore County School Board is expected to vote Tuesday night to hire a firm to conduct a national search for a permanent superintendent to replace Dallas Dance, who resigned a year ago amid a criminal investigation.

If the board approves the $75,000 contract to hire Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, one of the largest superintendent search firms in the nation, the search would begin immediately, with the goal of having a new superintendent by July 1. That’s the date by which state law requires school systems to have a new leader in place.

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The school board’s president, Edward J. Gilliss, said the board was considering several options. Even after the search firm begins looking for candidates, the board may still hire interim Superintendent Verletta White to be the permanent replacement. The board also is leaving open the idea of asking the state for permission to keep White for another year or name another person as interim superintendent for a year.

“All options remain viable,” Gilliss said.

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Former Baltimore County school superintendent Dallas Dance pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor criminal counts of perjury for failing to disclose nearly $147,000 he earned from consulting jobs.

After Dance announced his resignation suddenly last April, the school board appointed White, the chief academic officer under Dance, as interim superintendent until June 30 of this year. Ever since her appointment, White has lobbied for the permanent job, saying she wants to lead the school system that educated her from kindergarten through high school, and where she has spent nearly all of her career.

The lack of a decision by the board until now has angered some parents.

“The search should have started last April,” said Jayne Lee, president of the Baltimore County Council of PTAs. “I don’t see that there has been any search of any kind. That is negligence on the part of the board. I just don’t mean the chair. They have a duty and an obligation to have done this job for the last year.”

If the school board hires the search firm, it will be starting a national search later than many boards in the state have in the past.

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School boards often begin the search in the fall and announce the next superintendent in the spring. The last time Baltimore County looked for a new superintendent, it began a national search in the fall of 2011, hired Dance in February 2012, and he arrived in June to work for a month next to the departing superintendent, Joe A. Hairston.

Howard County used a similar timetable in 2011 and 2012 when it searched for a superintendent and hired Renee A. Foose. Then, after Foose resigned last May, it named Michael Martirano interim superintendent and in December made him the permanent leader beginning July 1.

Carroll, Cecil, and Harford counties are all conducting superintendent searches this year. Harford County began its search on Feb. 5, and expects to name a new superintendent in May. Carroll County launched its search in December, and interested educators had a deadline of mid-January to apply.

Reacting to the former superintendent Dallas Dance's guilty plea, the current superintendent said she is "saddened."

Most superintendent searches for large school systems take about six months, said Henry Duvall, a spokesman for the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of about 70 of the nation’s largest urban school systems, including Baltimore City.

But every superintendent search is different, said Frances Glendening, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. “It is very individualistic with the school system. They have to find their way for their circumstances,” she said.

In all cases, she said, boards know “it is the most important decision they make. And they take it very seriously.”

Superintendent searches for large school systems in the region have usually been conducted largely out of public view, so that applicants do not anger their current employers.

In March, Baltimore County held a forum inviting the public to weigh in on the characteristics it would like in its next school superintendent. Some teachers and administrators — carrying white carnations to signify their support for Verletta White — spoke on her behalf.

Initially, White enjoyed broad support from the board, teachers and parents after being named interim superintendent. Unlike her predecessor, she was able to gain consensus of the board for her initiatives and drew praise by members.

But questions have been raised by parents and others concerned by revelations in November that White failed to file accurate financial disclosure reports. Some have also expressed concern that she is too closely linked to Dance, whom she worked under for five years.

Dallas Dance resigns as Baltimore County Schools superintendent

On March 8, Dance pleaded guilty to four counts of perjury for failing to disclose nearly $147,000 in consulting work, including about $90,000 from a staff training company that got a no-bid contract from the school system. He will be sentenced April 20. The Maryland State Prosecutor is recommending a five-year sentence, with all but 18 months suspended.

In November, The Baltimore Sun reported that Dance failed to disclose payments from other entities — including the Educational Research & Development Institute, a company that represents educational technology firms seeking to get contracts from school districts including Baltimore County.

White acknowledged in November that she, too, had failed to report income she received from ERDI from 2013 to 2016, when she was the school system’s chief academic officer. She acknowledged she made a mistake, vowed to no longer perform consulting work and amended her disclosure forms to show she earned roughly $12,000 as a consultant.

White has not been charged with any crime.

White’s advocates have said she made a simple mistake in misunderstanding what she needed to report. She has publicly said she wants to be the permanent leader of the nation’s 25th largest system with its 113,000 students and $1.6 billion annual budget.

“I am committed, personally and professionally” to the school system, White said Monday. “I do want the permanent position.”

When he resigned, Dance was earning $287,000 a year as superintendent. As interim superintendent, White’s salary is $265,000.

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