Dance’s breach of trust

The allegations that former Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance earned money through extracurricular employment as an educational consultant that he neither sought permission for nor disclosed aren’t new. But the scale and scope of what the Maryland State Prosecutor is charging him with is far beyond what the public had previously known. If the allegations are true, it means he lied directly and repeatedly to the school board, to parents and to the taxpayers who compensated him quite well for his day job. That betrayal, if proven, will harm the school system and the students it serves for years to come.

In total, prosecutors say Mr. Dance failed to disclose a total of about $145,000 in outside income from 2012-2015, a far greater amount than he had acknowledged. When The Sun first reported that Mr. Dance was a paid consultant for the Chicago-based Supes Academy — for which he negotiated an $875,000 no-bid contract with the school system — he said he expected to earn $10,000 to $15,000 for the work, which he would donate to a foundation that benefits county schools. According to prosecutors, it was more like $90,000. (The indictment doesn’t address the issue, but despite repeated inquiries, The Sun has never been able to confirm whether Mr. Dance donated any of his SUPES earnings to the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools.)

Contrary to his promise at the time, Mr. Dance didn’t stop taking off-the-books side jobs. The Sun reported last year that he had been paid for work for an education technology consulting firm, earnings he later documented on his financial disclosure forms, but the indictment alleges tens of thousands in payments from other companies and school districts. It is mind boggling that the Pasadena United School District in California and an associated foundation would pay more than $45,000 to another district’s superintendent, but such was the niche Mr. Dance was able to create for himself as an apostle of educational equity and classroom technology.

Mr. Dance is gone now, and his interim successor, Verletta White, has already apologized for her own (much smaller) failure to disclose outside income. But the effects of Mr. Dance’s alleged betrayal of the county Schools will linger for years. Everything he did will now be viewed with extreme suspicion, and that includes his crucial efforts to ensure that students of different backgrounds had a real shot at achieving the same success in county schools. His efforts to devote more resources to schools with larger populations of poor and minority students were politically difficult to begin with, and now it will be easier for critics to dismiss them along with the rest of Mr. Dance’s legacy. Similarly, it will be next to impossible for the district to have a rational conversation about the merits of Mr. Dance’s effort to put a laptop into every student’s hands. Whether the district hires Ms. White permanently or selects someone else, the county superintendent will face tremendous mistrust that will hinder his or her ability to make the changes a rapidly diversifying district requires.

Baltimore County voters will get a chance to elect members of the school board for the first time this fall, and not a moment too soon. Voters need to demand a much greater level of oversight for the district’s leaders so we can trust they are making decisions for the students’ benefit, not their own. Only that can undo the damage Mr. Dance has wrought.

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