The state’s decision not to confirm Verletta White as Baltimore County schools superintendent set off a round of political finger-pointing on Wednesday.
Democratic Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a supporter of White, claimed that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan directed the state superintendent to veto White’s appointment. Aides to Hogan rejected the claim.
A divided county school board voted in April to appoint White, the interim superintendent, to a four-year term as the district’s top executive. State schools Superintendent Karen B. Salmon declined to affirm the appointment, citing an ethics violation by White, and the lack of an audit of the school system’s process for awarding contracts.
Kamenetz, who hopes to challenge Hogan in November’s election, cast the decision as a political ploy orchestrated by the Republican governor.
“Larry Hogan has a troubling pattern of playing politics at the expense of children’s education,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “He’s created turmoil over the school calendar and the school construction process. Now he directs his schools chief to take the unprecedented step to overturn the judgment of the local school board who knows Superintendent White best. He’s shameless!”
Aides to Hogan said that’s not what happened. The state superintendent is hired by the state school board, not Hogan. The board is now made up of Hogan-appointed members, but when Salmon was hired, he had appointed only six of the 11 board members.
Superintendent appointments in most Maryland counties require the approval of the state superintendent. The state superintendent is required to provide reasons for the decision in writing, which Salmon did last week.
A spokeswoman for Hogan said the governor didn’t communicate with Salmon about the decision.
“That aside, it is startling that Mr. Kamenetz does not share the superintendent’s concerns, given what has gone in the Baltimore County school system on his watch,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said.
Former Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance, once a rising national star in education, was sentenced last month to six months in prison for perjury. He pleaded guilty to lying on his financial disclosure forms.
Hogan has criticized the leadership of the county school system. He attempted to pass a bill this year that would have created a state investigator general to examine allegations of misconduct in public schools. The legislation, which failed, was inspired in part by Dance.
“Our administration supports efforts by the state and county to ensure that citizens’ concerns about ethics in Baltimore County schools are addressed in the wake of recent scandals and criminal activity,” Chasse said.
Kamenetz is one in a crowded primary field of Democrats seeking to run against Hogan. The two men have also battled over the pace at which the county is installing air conditioning in schools.
Others who have raised concerns about White said Salmon’s decision creates an opportunity for a national search for a new superintendent.
“There should have been an extensive search to find the appropriate person and there should have never been a decision made by a lame-duck school board, particularly the same school board that gave us Dallas Dance,” said Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough, who is running for county executive. “This is a school board that is the gang that can’t shoot straight. They gave us Dallas Dance and Verletta White.”
A spokeswoman for McDonough’s Republican primary opponent, Al Redmer Jr., said he is concerned about White’s leadership and ethics violation.
“We understand that Ms. White is very well respected by her colleagues and teachers in the Baltimore County Public Schools system,” spokeswoman Hannah Marr said. “But we do support Dr. Salmon’s decision to halt that process until further investigations and audits can be made into the school system.”
State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Republican, said the school board created this problem by forgoing a national search to replace Dance.
“I think the wise thing that should have been done — and was not done — was to go out to the field to get some resumes,” he said. “Since that did not happen, I think that’s why it is what it is right now.”
State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat running for county executive, said it was problematic for the current school board to appoint White when a new school board will be seated after the November election.
“I’ve said all along that I thought the most pragmatic thing for the board to have done is to appoint her for one year and let the incoming elected school board make a decision on who the next superintendent was going to be,” he said.
Johnny Olszewski Jr., another Democratic candidate for county executive, offered praise for White but advocated a national search.
“Verletta White is a home-grown leader with a great local story. It is unfortunate that we continue to not have a resolution for the benefit of our students and families,” Olszewski said in a statement. “It is my hope that a complete audit and a national search for a permanent BCPS superintendent will boost confidence in our school system and allow us to being moving forward together.”
White maintains support from other politicians.
County Council Chairman Julian Jones, who has been one of her most vocal supporters, called the state’s actions “outrageous and disrespectful.” He said White would have brought much-needed stability to the school system, but Salmon’s decision upended that.
“The citizens of Baltimore County and their representatives made a decision,” he said. “For the state to impose their will above the will of the people of Baltimore County is absolutely, positively shameful.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.