Baltimore County school board starts down two different paths to find a new superintendent

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

A divided Baltimore County school board has started down two different and potentially conflicting paths toward finding a superintendent to succeed Dallas Dance.

During a meeting Tuesday that included verbal attacks, name-calling and boos from the audience, board members voted to spend $75,000 to hire a firm to conduct a national search. Meanwhile, board member Stephen Verch suggested that they instead give the job to interim Superintendent Verletta White.

For a moment — four hours into the meeting — it seemed that the board might go into a closed executive session and take a vote.

Votes on naming superintendents are not usually taken up suddenly at 10:30 p.m., and a couple of members reacted with alarm. Kathleen Causey called the idea “shocking.”

The vote was deferred when staff advised board Chairman Edward Gilliss that going into a second executive session in one night would violate open meeting laws.

Gilliss said Wednesday that he expects the board to discuss the search in closed session on April 17. He was not sure whether a motion to offer the job to White would be discussed in open or closed session.

Gilliss said keeping all of the board’s options open might seem contradictory, but is necessary because “12 independent-minded persons were allowed to express their views. We have to discuss all of the options to get to a final point.”

Dance left the district last year and pleaded guilty last month to four counts of perjury for failing to disclose nearly $147,000 he earned from consulting jobs. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 20.

The board could conduct a national search to replace him, appoint White or ask the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools to allow them to name an interim superintendent for a second year.

Some observers say they worry that the board is making it less likely that strong candidates will apply for the job.

Tom DeHart, executive director of the union that represents county school administrators, questioned whether qualified candidates would want a job in a county with a recent history of corruption, a dysfunctional school board and a short hiring process. Most searches for large school systems take six to eight months, he said. The board has less than three months, because state law requires school systems to have new leaders in place by July 1.

DeHart also noted that the next superintendent will work for a new board, after eight new members are elected in November and four are appointed.

“Any quality candidates would be almost crazy to want to come here and work for a board that is going to be gone in six months,” he said. “When they did this search six years ago, they came up with two viable candidates. What are they going to come up with now?”

Board members also have questions.

“The dynamics of our board and with everything in the paper. … Is there a good candidate willing to step into this situation?” Emory Young asked.

Young said he hasn’t decided how he might vote — if it comes to a vote — on April 17. He praised White’s work, but said a national search could show the board “what candidates are out there and what skill sets are out there.”

Some observers see two choices — to hire White or ask the Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon for another year with an interim superintendent.

White has drawn criticism for failing to file a correct financial disclosure report. Some educators and parents who believe the county needs to make a break with the Dance administration, in which she served. Republican state legislators said in a statement Wednesday that they did not support her appointment, citing a lack of communication.

White, who has said she wants the permanent job, does have supporters on the board.

“I think at this point she would make a great superintendent,” David Uhlfelder said Wednesday.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz also supports her. His chief of staff, Don Mohler, said Kamenetz has focused on “the need for stability. He has concluded that this is a woman who knows the community well.”

Gliss said it’s unclear whether the state would approve a request to have an interim superintendent for a second year.

“The representation I have gotten is that the state superintendent is not inclined to grant a second year of superintendency,” Gliss said. However, Gilliss said he has not “picked up the phone and called the state superintendent and said what will you do?”

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