The Baltimore County school board voted Tuesday night to make Verletta White its permanent superintendent, following months of stalemate.
White has been the interim superintendent for the past nine months, during which the school board's ethics panel determined she had previously violated ethics rules as a schools employee. The eight-to-four vote came after fierce debate by a deeply divided school board.
"I am confident that stability, consistency and locally rooted leadership is right for this system," said the board chair, Edward J. Gilliss.
"There has not been a better tryout," said Nick Stewart, a school board member, referring to White's performance as interim. "She is a leader. She executes with grit and grace."
After the vote, the audience rose and cheered. Gilliss hugged White.
White's four-year contract, including her salary and benefits, will be negotiated with Gilliss. The board will have to vote on the contract. The former superintendent earned $287,000.
By state law, superintendents work on four-year contracts that begin July 1.
A minority of members moved to have White continue in the interim position for another year, but that motion failed. Those members argued that the public deserved to see a national search done by a new board that will be elected in November.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz expressed his support for White on Tuesday night.
"I am delighted that the board of education recognized the importance of creating stability for students, teachers and administrators," he said in a statement after the vote.
White, 50, is viewed by many teachers and administrators as a steady hand who has deep roots in the community and a strong interest in improving academics.
She was chosen despite ethical lapses and concerns that she was too closely linked to former superintendent Dallas Dance, who will be sentenced Friday on his conviction of four counts of perjury.
White was the chief academic officer under Dance, and has been interim since July 1.
She has continued many of Dance's projects, including an initiative to give every student a laptop, as well as a new grading program.
The board has openly quarreled over how to proceed toward finding a superintendent to follow Dance. The board voted April 3 to spend $75,000 to hire a private firm to do a national search.
Board member Julie Henn sent an email this week to Gilliss, complaining that the contract with the search firm had not been executed, and therefore, the national search had not begun.
"We have an aggressive search schedule as is, and now we are an additional two weeks behind. This process needed to start months ago. Why was the execution of this contract, approved by the full Board, not handled as a top priority? What are we waiting on?" she said in the email, which she provided to The Baltimore Sun.
White asked to be appointed to the job, and she has the support of the administrators union and some teachers.
But the school board's ethics panel found a few months ago that she violated ethics rules twice when she failed to disclose a consulting job on her financial disclosure forms for several years. She also was found to have benefited financially from her "prestige of office."
She has instituted some policies, including a new grading policy, that have received mixed reviews. She has focused attention in the past nine months on reading and the climate inside schools.
White attended county public schools as a student and has spent most of her education career as a teacher and administrator in the county. She has two children who attend county public schools.
The day after she was named interim superintendent last spring, she said she intended to stay for the long term if the board approved her.
"I am in this for the long haul," White said. "I have a personal and professional investment in Baltimore County. I care deeply about this school system. And so my plans are to stay and to make a difference long-term."