State lawmakers from Baltimore County are gearing up to question interim school superintendent Verletta White about a wide range of issues — charges against her former boss, questions about her own consulting work and the continuing audit of district purchasing.
Baltimore County’s state senators are scheduled to meet with White in Annapolis on Friday, just three days after a county grand jury indicted former superintendent Dallas Dance on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose income he received for consulting work.
Two weeks later, on Feb. 9, the county’s House delegation will hold its own session with White.
Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is campaigning to be county executive, asked White earlier this month to brief the delegation about an audit now being conducted of the school system’s purchases. He said members are now likely to ask about the Maryland state prosecutor’s case against Dance.
On Tuesday, a Baltimore County grand jury indicted Dance on four counts of perjury for failing to report nearly $147,000 he earned for private consulting work that school district rules required him to disclose, according to the state prosecutor’s office. He is to be arraigned Feb. 12. Dance has not responded to requests for comment.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer said he expects White’s consulting work will also be raised at the Friday meeting. “I’m sure it will be brought up by someone about her reporting and her activities,” Kasemeyer said.
The Baltimore Sun reported in November that Dance worked as a consultant for a company representing education technology firms without notifying the county school board of the payments. Some of those firms won no-bid contracts with the school system. His failure to report those payments on forms he signed under penalty of perjury is part of the basis for the charges against him.
White also worked as a consultant for the company for four years without disclosing the payments to the school system or the public, The Sun reported. White repeatedly filed county disclosure forms, also under penalty of perjury, stating she earned no outside income while working as the school system’s chief academic officer from 2013 until she was named interim superintendent last year. She later apologized to the school system and pledged not to accept payments for outside work. White is not charged with any crime.
Of the school system audit, Brochin said he and other senators were concerned that White and the school board had not sufficiently expanded the scope of the financial review to satisfy four board members who wanted it to provide more details about no-bid contracts.
“The delegation is torn with not wanting to micromanage the superintendent and what the school board does, but there were some legitimate questions,” Brochin said. “We asked her to come down and she said ‘Yes.’ ”
White’s chief of staff, Mychael Dickerson, said the superintendent encouraged the meeting and said, “She’s going to talk to them about what she’s looking for in the audit that she called for.”
School system officials have said the audit, which is due early next month, encompasses hundreds of millions of dollars in purchases made from 2014 to 2017 and will include a specific focus on technology contracts — including those for which the system did not seek competitive bids. White expanded the audit’s scope in December at the suggestion of state officials.
State Del. Steve Lafferty, the Democrat who leads the county delegation, said Wednesday he arranged the meeting with White before news of Dance’s indictment broke, and stressed that delegates would want to hear about the status of the school system’s audit and of school construction projects.
But he said he now expects more questions on White’s own failure to report consulting income on ethics forms, a lapse she acknowledged after The Sun reported it.
“Critics may say, ‘Why did you do what you did?’ ” Lafferty said.
He said lawmakers also may seek answers on any discipline the county school board may have imposed on White behind closed doors.
“I don’t know that they really did anything,” Lafferty said of the board. “People may ask her about that.”
Andrew Smarick, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said Wednesday the state board will assess the results of White’s audit and decide whether further action is necessary. Given Dance’s indictment, Smarick said, the board will take an even closer look at the audit’s findings.
With the school system set to award a new contract to provide computers to all 113,000 students in the system, Brochin said many state lawmakers want to know what White’s view is on the use of technology championed by Dance. The district has spent about $147 million to give all elementary and middle school students Hewlett Packard computers.
“There is a lot of conflicting data” over whether the tablets have improved learning, he said. “The kids aren’t paying attention in class. A lot of things are going by the wayside in lieu of us loading up and making sure every kid has a tablet.”