The state of Maryland's top public education official has blocked the appointment of Verletta White as Baltimore County school superintendent because of recent ethics violations and the school system’s failure to conduct an audit of the way it awards contracts.
The Baltimore Sun reports that state schools superintendent Karen Salmon rejected White's appointment because the ethical violations were "a serious breach of trust with the public in general and with the education community in particular."
The Baltimore County school board's ethics panel found last year that White violated ethics rules by failing to disclose a part-time job.
The school board voted 8 to 4 last month to appoint White. The board is expected to discuss at a meeting next week whether to ask Salmon to reconsider her decision. The board also may authorize White to continue as interim superintendent, the role she has had for several months.
The state rebuke of a local school board decision comes two weeks after the man that White replaced, former superintendent Dallas Dance, was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of perjury.
Dance admitted to concealing his paid consulting work for other school districts and companies, including a firm that represents school system contractors.
That firm also paid White for consulting work, and the school board’s ethics panel found that White violated ethics rules by failing to disclose that part-time job. That violation is the main reason Salmon rejected White's appointment.
“I consider an ethics violation to be a serious breach of trust with the public in general and with the education community in particular,” Salmon wrote. “That breach of trust causes me pause as I consider whether to approve White as a permanent superintendent.”
In response, White issued a statement that said, “I…believe that the allegations raised by some concerning my character have been based on speculation and not fact."
Board members who voted against White’s appointment last month applauded Salmon’s decision.
“The state superintendent did a great job of laying out her concerns — concerns that certainly a number of us had shared previously,” board member Roger Hayden says.
White supporters said they would continue to fight for her.
“Two weeks ago, the board expressed its confidence in Mrs. White and voted to appoint her,” says school board chairman, Edward J. Gilliss. “I believe she has proven her mettle, that she is locally rooted, fully invested and broadly respected.”
Salmon has indicated she might be open to approving White for a second interim term and possibly a full, four-year term once an audit of the county school system’s contracting process is completed.
Some board members, state legislators and parents have expressed concerns about the hundreds of millions of dollars in technology contracts awarded during Dance’s tenure, including deals with firms represented by Education Research & Development Institute, the company that paid Dance and White as consultants.
“I believe that the results of the audit will provide critical facts for me to consider in deciding whether to approve Dr. White as permanent superintendent,” Salmon wrote. “I decline to approve Dr. White as permanent superintendent at this time. Instead, if the Board requests such appointment, I would approve a second interim appointment for Dr. White, or for a different interim superintendent.”
John Woolums, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, called the state’s rejection of a qualified superintendent unprecedented. “But the state superintendent’s letter appears to provide significant options for the board moving forward, including the appointment of Superintendent White to a second term,” he says.
Superintendent appointments in most Maryland counties require the approval of the state superintendent.