Elected officials in Baltimore County are asking why the school board failed to scrutinize the extensive out-of-state travel by former superintendent Dallas Dance.
The Baltimore Sun reported last week that Dance was traveling outside the school district during more than a third of all school days in 2016, mostly to speak at or attend conferences that focused primarily on education technology products and policies.
Dance traveled far more than other superintendents in the region. In 2016 alone, Dance visited 19 cities in 13 states, The Sun found in its analysis of thousands of pages of travel records, credit card receipts, expense reports and emails found.
The trips were approved by school board chairs. They did not require the approval of the full board. Board members say they were kept informed of Dance’s whereabouts, and he was responsive to calls, emails and texts while traveling. Parents, teachers and elected officials say the extent of his travel was not widely known.
“It’s incredibly unacceptable that someone who is the CEO of the school system is away 38 percent of the time,” state Sen. Jim Brochin said. “You have to show up at your job.”
Brochin, a Democrat, is running for county executive. He said the chief executive of a company or county school system is most effective if he or she is “hands-on.”
“Hands-on is not traveling the country.”
State Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican who is also running for county executive, said “there has been no accountability in the Baltimore County school district.”
“The school board was a fan club,” McDonough said.
Neither Dance nor his attorneys responded to requests for comment.
School board Chairman Edward J. Gilliss said he disagrees with the criticism of Dance’s travel and the school board’s oversight of it.
“Dr. Dance was present at everything that was important,” Gilliss said. “He was available to me at any time I called him. The mere fact that he was able to do a great job as superintendent is enough said. The fact that he traveled shouldn’t impact the recognition of the good things he accomplished for our district.”
County Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said he could always reach Dance by phone.
“There was never a time when he was not accessible to me,” Jones said. He said he was unaware of all Dance’s travel, “but it wasn’t my business to know.”
McDonough filed an ethics complaint against Dance in December 2013. He raised questions about a consulting job that required the superintendent to travel to Chicago to train principals.
The school ethics panel ruled that Dance violated the ethics code by taking the job with a company that does business with the school system. Dance’s connection to the now-defunct SUPES Academy is being investigated by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office, several sources have told The Sun.
Jones said the school district benefited from Dance’s growing national reputation as a digital-savvy superintendent appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014 to the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans and invited to events at the White House.
“I’d rather have a superintendent in high demand in terms of people wanting to hear what he had to say and had something offer to education on a broad scale instead of someone who doesn’t,” he said.
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said she was unaware that Dance was traveling as often as he did, but said he was always available to her.
The Middle River Democrat said her district’s constituents were divided on Dance and his technology initiatives.
“I had teachers and parents who were excited about him being superintendent,” Bevins said. “He spent time with students, had lots of good ideas, wanted to have the latest and greatest technology. And I had parents and teachers who wanted him to slow his roll. They thought it was more important to have more teachers, more assistant principals and more resources, not more tablets.”
Bevins said she expected any superintendent would go to conferences to learn ways to improve the district.
Councilman David Marks said parents would prefer a superintendent who remained in the district.
The Perry Hall Republican called Dance’s out-of-state travel “shocking.”
Former Del. Johnny Olszewski, another Democrat running for county executive, said “people deserve a government that is transparent and leaders who are present and engaged.”
“We can make county government more open, so that the public can more easily hold its leaders accountable,” he said.
Marks said Dance’s successor, interim Superintendent Verletta White, has traveled less.
“In the future,” he said, “the board of education should do more to publicize the travel history of its superintendents.”