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Verletta White releases Baltimore County school board's ethics panel report

Baltimore County’s Interim Schools Superintendent Verletta White on Wednesday released the ethics panel review of her outside consulting work after the state’s top public education official declined to approve her as permanent superintendent.

While the county school board previously disclosed that the ethics panel cited White for two violations, officials have not made the report public before.

Last month, a divided school board voted to approve White as superintendent beginning July 1. She had been serving as interim superintendent since last July, earning an annual salary of $265,000.

On Wednesday, White announced that state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon had informed her she wouldn’t sign off on her appointment, citing concern over White’s previous failure to disclose outside income from consulting work.

Document: Ethics Review Panel's complaint report on Verletta White »

White has previously said she was confused by the financial disclosure forms. She filed amended forms and said she would not do consulting work again while serving as superintendent.

In a statement Wednesday, White said she released the seven-page ethics panel decision because she believed that the “allegations raised by some concerning my character have been based on speculation and not fact.”

“In the past, I have been hesitant to release the full decision, as it is a part of my personnel record and confidential,” White said. “However, given the apparent conclusions made by the State Superintendent, I am taking the unusual step of releasing the report.”

The ethics review stemmed from a complaint a county parent made in November to the ethics panel about White’s work for Education Research and Development Institute, or ERDI, a company that represents educational technology firms seeking contracts from school districts. Some of ERDI’s clients have contracts with the county school system.

In its report dated Jan. 22, the ethics panel found that White violated two policies: One provision regarding financial disclosure rules and another because she “used the prestige of her office or public position for private gain” by accepting compensation from ERDI.

According to the ethics report, White said the ERDI chairman invited her to participate in August 2013. She said that during the 2013-14 school year and the following three years, she took part in ERDI focus groups twice a year on weekends. She was paid $500 per focus group.

ERDI sets up three hour, private meetings in various cities between a panel of school officials such as White — and former superintendent Dallas Dance — and executives with companies that develop education software and other products to school systems.

White told the ethics panel that she “found an added benefit of lending my experience and expertise to companies who sought advice on the products and services that were in development for use by teachers and school administrators,” the report states.

She also said that there were “no sales pitches involved during the focus group sessions.”

The panel concluded that White “violated the ‘prestige of office’ provision ... by accepting compensation for participation in a program in her capacity as a ‘school official.’”

“Although ERDI may not be an entity that ‘does business’ with the Board of Education,” the report states, the ethics panel found that “White used the prestige of her office or public position for private gain” by accepting pay from ERDI.

The panel, however, found no evidence that White’s participation in the focus groups resulted in any “improper influence” or “even the appearance of improper influence.”

The ethics panel called the disclosure violation “technical,” saying the financial disclosure statement was “confusing and unclear” about what needed to be reported. While the instructions for the form ask the filer to report income including “individual consulting activities,” the form itself only asks whether the person has received an outside salary or owned a business.

“An individual filing the Statement could well be confused as to whether the required disclosures include an intermittent individual consultation fee from a business not owned by the individual or a family member, which would be neither ‘employment’ nor ‘salary,’” they wrote.

Members also found no evidence that she received money from any company that did business with the school system.

“The Panel concludes that White’s participation in the ERDI focus groups did not create a conflict of interest,” the report states.

The panel recommended that in the future, no school employees be compensated by ERDI and “and that any participation in ERDI activities be as open and transparent as possible.”

The Baltimore Sun previously filed a Maryland Public Information Act request for the ethics report. Officials declined to release it, saying it was privileged and confidential.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez

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