State rejection of White doesn't add up

State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon says her concerns about Verletta White’s ethical conduct and questions about Baltimore County schools contracting practices are so great that she must reject the county board’s decision to hire her as the district’s permanent superintendent. But Ms. Salmon also says she would approve Ms. White for another year as interim superintendent.

That doesn’t add up.

If what Ms. White did was so egregious that she cannot be the permanent superintendent, then she shouldn’t be the interim one either. If that’s the case, she should be escorted out of Greenwood immediately. We appreciate that Ms. Salmon wants to hear the results of an audit into county contracting practices, but she also must surely know that the contracts in question are the ones approved during the tenure of Ms. White’s disgraced predecessor, Dallas Dance, who is now serving a jail sentence for perjury.

Ms. Salmon simply does not lack adequate information about Ms. White’s conduct. We know that Ms. White participated as a paid consultant for a company that facilitates conferences of educational technology firms and that she earned $500 twice a year for four years for appearing on panel discussions during those meetings. We know that she failed to list that income on her financial disclosure forms, and we know that Ms. White’s ethical conduct was examined by the appropriate body — the county school district’s Ethics Review Panel — and we know that she revised her disclosure forms and agreed not to participate in outside consulting in the future. The panel’s report, which Ms. White finally released Wednesday, shows that the group found that her proposed remedies for that failure of disclosure and for her use of the prestige of her office to secure the income were sufficient to “assure the public that the conduct of public business is not subject to improper influence or the appearance of improper influence and that White’s impartiality and independent judgment will be maintained.”

We concur with that view. We do not excuse Ms. White’s lapse or fully buy her explanation that the forms she filled out were confusing. But we also do not see her violations as being on anything like the same scale as those committed by Mr. Dance, and we cannot help but conclude that she is being punished for his misdeeds.

We also cannot help but point out the political undertones of this action. Ms. Salmon’s position is designed to be shielded from politics. She is not hired by the governor and does not report to him, though she does report to school board members he appointed. And Mr. Hogan has been harsh in his assessment of Ms. White, calling her conduct “outrageous” and using it as partial justification for school system accountability legislation he pushed in the recent General Assembly session.

Ms. Salmon’s decision comes at the same time that the state Republican Party is crowing about controversy surrounding the hand-picked superintendent of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to contest Mr. Hogan) and citing it as evidence of his poor management. Baltimore County is led by another top contender to take on the governor, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, and Mr. Hogan has long stirred the pot of discontent in county schools, through complaints about the lack of air conditioning or questions about school renovation and replacement priorities. Whether Mr. Kamenetz wins the Democratic nomination or not, fomenting discontent with Democratic leadership in what is likely the most electorally critical county for Mr. Hogan plays in the Republican incumbent’s favor.

What should the county do now? Appoint Ms. White as interim leader for another year. She has the experience, the priorities and deep connection with the county and its schools that the system needs right now. An 8-4 majority of the county board expressed faith in Ms. White’s leadership last month, and Ms. Salmon has provided no compelling reason for them to change their minds. A new school board will take over after November’s elections, and it can sort out whether to conduct a proper national search for a permanent leader or to put Ms. White’s name forward again. Will Ms. Salmon have the same reservations when it’s not an election year? Let’s find out.

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