Dance found in violation of ethics code over consulting job

The Baltimore County school board ethics panel has ruled that Superintendent Dallas Dance violated rules when he took a consulting job with a professional development company that does business with the school system.

School board President Lawrence Schmidt said Thursday that in light of the ruling, the board and Dance have agreed that he will not take any other consulting jobs as long as he works for the school system. Dance also said in a statement that he would be more careful to avoid conflicts.

The ruling stemmed from a part-time job Dance took in the summer of 2013 with SUPES Academy to coach Chicago public school principals, just months after the school board signed an $875,000 contract with SUPES in December 2012. Under the county contract, SUPES will train about 25 principals a year over three years.

"The ethics panel found that there was a violation by Dr. Dance insofar as his consulting for SUPES Academy," Schmidt said. "In this case, Dr. Dance proposed a cure to the violation, and that cure was that he would not hereinafter do any paid consulting."

Dance resigned from the consulting job in December 2013, the day public officials began questioning the arrangement, which some viewed as a conflict of interest. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican representing Baltimore and Howard counties, filed a complaint with the ethics panel, prompting the investigation.

"I acknowledge that better professional judgment should have been exercised in the SUPES Academy situation that occurred earlier in the school year. I didn't recognize it at the time, but I realize that the relationship indeed creates a conflict," Dance said in a statement. "I will definitely be more sensitive to the importance of avoiding situations that create conflicts, or even the appearance of a conflict, and will be more careful in the future."

Once the panel found there was a violation, Schmidt said, Dance was given the option of presenting a so-called cure to the violation or to contest it. Dance proposed the prohibition against further consulting work, which was accepted by the panel. The panel then recommended the school board accept the penalty, which it did during a closed-door session Tuesday night before the regular board meeting.

Dance is currently allowed under his employment contract to do private consulting work with the prior approval of the school board as long as it does not interfere with the superintendent's job. But he had not sought the board's approval before taking the SUPES job, and said at the time that he believed he only had to notify the board once a year about any work he was doing on the side.

After a closed-door meeting in December with Dance, Schmidt said he should have sought the board's approval before taking the job and that he had been directed to do so in the future. Schmidt also said that "there is no indication that Dr. Dance's performance as superintendent was in any way adversely impacted" by the consulting.

When Dance quit the SUPES job, he said he would donate any money he made to the county's Education Foundation.

Schmidt said Thursday that the ethics panel, which is an independent body of the school board, found no evidence that Dance had been paid.

The board will now remove the language from his contract that allows consulting work.

McDonough said he is satisfied with the penalty.

"My goal was to not allow this incident to pass, not to sweep it under the rug. [The panel] concluded that he had officially violated the charter and committed an ethics violation. It is on the record, and that is what I wanted," McDonough said.

County Councilman David Marks said Dance should have been focused on his county job.

"The superintendent is a very active and engaged superintendent. He has enough on his plate," Marks said, adding that he thought "that is probably an appropriate penalty. I just don't want it to happen again."

Dance will continue to teach an online summer course for the University of Richmond, according to his spokesman Mychael Dickerson. Dance has taught the course since 2008, Dickerson said, and it is not considered consulting work.

The written report of the ethics panel, which details the investigation and the conclusion about what part of the ethics rules were violated, will not be made public, Schmidt said, because the board believes it is a personnel issue. Schmidt did not say what provision of the ethics code the superintendent had violated.

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