State prosecutors are investigating former Baltimore County school superintendent Dallas Dance and his relationship with a company that did business with the school system, according to multiple sources.
The Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation more than six months ago, issuing a subpoena for school system records, and this month several people associated with the system were interviewed by investigators, sources said.
The investigation was well under way, sources said, when Dance announced in April that he was resigning as superintendent with three years left on his four-year contract. He offered no reason but later cited the burdens of the job.
Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said Friday that he cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigation. Dance did not respond to several requests for an interview.
Verletta White, the interim school superintendent, said Friday that she has not been contacted by the state prosecutor’s office. “I am not aware of any investigation,” she said.
According to sources, state prosecutors have been delving into Dance’s involvement with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Illinois-based company that trained principals in school districts across the country, including Baltimore County. The sources spoke to The Baltimore Sun on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. No one has been charged in connection with the investigation.
In 2014, school system ethics officials ruled that Dance had violated ethics rules by taking a part time job with SUPES after the company got an $875,000 contract with the school system.
Dance said after the ethics ruling that he should have exercised better judgment. “I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I realize that the relationship did create a conflict,” he said.
State legislative auditors later faulted the school system for not seeking a competitive bid before hiring the company.
SUPES Academy first came under scrutiny in Chicago when federal investigators looked at its dealings with the Chicago school system. In 2015, a co-owner of SUPES Academy and a former Chicago school superintendent were indicted on corruption charges. In part, the SUPES official was accused of offering bribes to the superintendent, who allegedly agreed to accept them. Both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison this year.
Dance’s involvement with SUPES dates to 2011 when, as an administrator in the Houston School system, he took a SUPES training course to help prepare to become a superintendent.
In July 2012, Dance was hired to be Baltimore County’s superintendent, a job that paid an annual salary of $260,000.
In December of that year, the Baltimore County school board at Dance’s request approved the $875,000, no-bid contract with SUPES to train 25 county principals a year over three or more years.
Rather than seeking bids, school officials “piggy-backed” onto an existing contract between SUPES and the St. Louis school district. Other Maryland school systems have also used such piggy-back contracts as a means of getting a lower price for goods or services.
In December 2013, The Sun reported that Dance had been hired by SUPES four months earlier to train principals in Chicago public schools on weekends. SUPES had a $20 million no-bid contract with the Chicago school system that the city school superintendent had shepherded through her school board.
Dance did not disclose to the Baltimore County school board that he was working part-time for SUPES until The Sun published its article about it.
Dance’s contract at the time allowed him to do private consulting work as long as he received prior board approval.
Dance said at the time that he planned to donate his payments from SUPES — which he estimated would be $10,000 to $15,000 — to the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools. The foundation is a nonprofit that raises private money and then donates it for materials and other school needs that aren’t covered by taxpayer dollars. Dance said he wanted his contribution to go to scholarships for graduates.
Dance told The Sun that the SUPES job was not interfering with the work of running the county school system, which is the 25th-largest in the country. But the day after the article was published, Dance announced that he would give up the SUPES work.
The school board met in private session with Dance the next week, on Dec. 17, 2013, to discuss the issue. Board president Lawrence Schmidt announced afterward that Dance should have sought the board’s approval before agreeing to do work for SUPES.
This month, investigators with the state prosecutor’s office have been asking about that closed-door meeting, as well as the board’s earlier decision to award SUPES the $875,000 contract to train Baltimore County principals.
According to sources, investigators also are looking at whether Dance was ever paid for the work he did for SUPES before quitting. School officials have said previously that the education foundation did not receive a donation from any work Dance did for SUPES.
Dance was not the only Baltimore-area school administrator to do training for SUPES. Sonja Santelises, now CEO of the Baltimore City school system, worked for SUPES Academy for two days in New Jersey in the summer of 2012, when she was the city’s chief academic officer.
Santelises sought advice from the city ethics panel before she did the work, then used vacation time to do the training. She donated the money she earned to city schools, The Sun reported at the time.
After the 2014 ruling by Baltimore County school ethics officials, the county school board and Dance agreed to change his employment contract so that he could no longer do consulting work, although he was permitted to continue to work as an adjunct professor in an online course at the University of Richmond.
Dance, who was gaining a national reputation for his education technology initiatives in the county schools, got a second four-year contract from the school board in 2016. His supporters said the young, charismatic superintendent had grown into the job he had taken four years earlier when he was only 31.
He announced suddenly on April 18 this year that he would resign the job on July 1. The timing was unusual because school superintendents in Maryland usually announce their intention to leave with enough time for their school board to do a national search and have a successor in place.
The Baltimore County board appointed White, the chief academic officer, as interim superintendent.
The Maryland State Prosecutor is authorized to investigate potential criminal wrongdoing by public officials or other government employees.