Several years ago, when Dallas Dance was being considered for the position of superintendent for BCPS and then after he was hired, there were a number of red flags to indicate that he was not the right choice. Initially, he lacked the needed requirements in experience, and waivers were required to allow him to be hired. Once hired, he began to push through a number of questionable initiatives quickly and without enough time to plan and prepare teachers and students for the changes. He also quickly began to travel to conferences and to do consulting work, ultimately racking up a couple of ethics violations in the process, for which he received little more than a slap on the wrist at the time.
Yet all the while, some stakeholders — community members, parents and teachers brave enough to risk retaliation — who saw the red flags and warning signs tried to speak up to avoid the disaster that they could see coming to BCPS. Despite attempts by these stakeholders to heed the warning signs, Mr. Dance was hired by BCPS, given approval for all of his new initiatives, allowed continued travel and even given a renewed four-year contract when his first contract was set to expire.
Then, suddenly, Mr. Dance stepped down only one year into that second four-year contract. Although the public didn't know it at the time, it turns out that Mr. Dance was already under investigation for some of the illegal actions taken while serving as superintendent of BCPS. This investigation ultimately led to charges of perjury due to an intentional failure under oath to claim outside income. Mr. Dance recently pled guilty to these charges and is now facing jail time as a result.
In his wake, he has left the school system in turmoil, struggling to deal with a number of poorly planned and executed initiatives and grappling with questions about who can be trusted to seek what's best for the students.
In the coming months, BCPS leadership will need to make a decision about who will be the next permanent superintendent of the school system. If they are not careful, history may very well repeat itself.
Verletta White, who worked closely with Mr. Dance during his tenure, has been filling the role of interim superintendent since Mr. Dance stepped down last summer. During her tenure thus far, some red flags have appeared, some very similar to those of Mr. Dance. Most notably, it has been found that Ms. White participated in travel and conferences similar to that of Mr. Dance, including stays in expensive hotels and attending “rooftop socials” with education technology company representatives. Ms. White has also racked up some ethical violations of her own. Like Mr. Dance, Ms. White failed to claim some outside income earned while attending some of these conferences on her annual BCPS forms. Somehow, she says she didn't know she needed to report the income with BCPS despite seeing Mr. Dance get reprimanded for the exact same thing during his tenure and despite the fact that she knew this income needed to be claimed on her income taxes.
While Ms. White's actions are considered unethical, they are not at this point considered illegal. Yet these red flags should serve as a warning to the leadership of BCPS. The question is: Will BCPS leadership heed the warnings this time and avert another potential disaster, or will they, as in the case of Mr. Dance, ignore the warning signs and move forward, selecting Ms. White as permanent superintendent? Is BCPS leadership ready to make a wiser choice now, or are they willing to gamble with the education of the more than 110,000 students in BCPS once again?
It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Let's hope that BCPS leadership has learned their lesson.
Brenda Peiffer is the parent of two children in Baltimore County schools; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.