Baltimore County interim school superintendent Verletta White has significantly expanded the scope of a planned audit of school system purchases.
The audit, for which the school system is soliciting bids from accounting firms, will now encompass hundreds of millions of dollars in purchases made between 2014 and 2017 rather than just 2016, and it will include a specific focus on technology contracts.
White said she expanded the audit’s scope at the suggestion of state officials. She made the change on Dec. 8, a few days after parents and four county school board members, representing a minority on the 12-member board, asked the state to intervene and conduct an independent, forensic audit.
The Baltimore Sun reported this fall that school system administrators, including White and former Superintendent Dallas Dance, worked for several years as paid consultants for a company that represents education technology firms.
Dance and White were being paid by the Chicago-based Education Research & Development Institute when the school system awarded no-bid contracts to several client companies of ERDI, The Sun’s investigation found. White was the chief academic officer at the time.
The proposed audit, which would begin Jan. 10 and be completed by Feb. 15, will include an examination of technology purchases that were made by the county school district without seeking competitive bids from various vendors. In an addendum to its request for bids, the county asked that auditors review the minutes of school board meetings and school board oversight procedures.
“Due to my request for the independent audit, I do not believe a state audit is needed at this time,” White said in an email to The Sun.
The state school board said on Dec. 5 that it would not launch an independent audit unless it received a request to do so from county officials — such as County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the County Council or the county school board. Baltimore County leaders have said they would not request a comprehensive audit of the school system’s technology contracts despite concerns raised by several board members and state delegates.
“County Executive Kamenetz has complete confidence in Interim Superintendent White and the Baltimore County Board of Education to manage this issue,” said spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.
School board chairman Edward Gilliss said he doesn’t expect the board to take any other action. “The county is not going to seek anything other than a third party audit of its processes,” he said.
Despite the changes to the scope of the audit, Del. Joe Cluster, a Republican representing northeast Baltimore County, said he and at least two other Republican state delegates and senators representing Baltimore County would be seeking a state review.
“I still have a problem with the county hiring someone to do an audit. I think it should be independent,” said Cluster, adding that he will be asking legislators to sign a letter to the Office of Legislative Audits asking for the review.
State Del. Susan Aumann, a Republican representing northern Baltimore County, said she would like Baltimore County’s General Assembly delegation to meet and discuss whether to ask for a comprehensive audit. She said she was not aware of Cluster’s efforts.
“We are talking lots and lots of money that taxpayers have willingly given to the school system,” Aumann said. “And if some of this money has been used to benefit entities other than the children, then I think that should be looked at.”
Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat representing Baltimore County, is concerned about the divided school board. White and school board leaders need to assure everyone that the audit process will be fair and complete.
“The fact that the superintendent has listened to the state” about the scope of the audit is a “very good sign,” he said. “If everyone buys in, we can move forward after the results come in. Then there won’t be any finger-pointing.”
White became interim superintendent July 1 after Dance resigned with three years remaining on his $287,000-a-year contract. Dance said at the time that the job was wearing on him. When he resigned, The Sun later reported, he was under investigation by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office for his relationship with SUPES Academy, a company that had a contract with the school system. The investigation is ongoing, according to sources.
After The Sun’s reporting on Dance’s and White’s work for ERDI, White announced that she will no longer accept paid consulting work and will abide by new restrictions on her out-of-state travel. White is being paid $265,000 a year as interim superintendent.