Guest Commentary: Baltimore Co. School Board at Odds in Superintendent Search
By Ann Miller
The Baltimore County school board may be engaging in a game of chicken.
Former superintendent Dallas Dance announced in April 2017 that he would resign at the end of June, one year into his four-year term. That left the school board less than three months to find a permanent superintendent, so the board hired Verletta White, Dance’s top administrator, as an interim superintendent for a one-year term per state law. The board had 15 months from the Dance announcement until it would seat a permanent superintendent. Ample time, as about six months is considered necessary.
The process to select Ms. White as the interim was hasty. The board publicly posted the position opening on May 4, 2017, with a closing date for accepting applications only four days later. Two weeks later, on May 23, the board publicly voted to hire Verletta White as the interim.
Board Chairman Ed Gilliss is responsible for leading the board through the process of hiring the permanent superintendent. In March 2018, 11 months after the Dance announcement, the board is considering whether it will hire a search firm. It is now four months before the permanent superintendent will be seated, barring an unlikely approval by the state superintendent to extend a second full interim year, which has never occurred before in Maryland.
Additionally, in February the decision of the board on an ethics complaint filed against Verletta White was made, and Ms. White was found to be in ethical violation on two counts for failure to disclose earned income and use of prestige of office. I voted against the settlement along with four of my fellow board members because I found both the findings and the cure to be inadequate in conveying the seriousness of the issues and to restoring the public trust. The public still waits for an independent audit of BCPS contracts and vendor relationships.
It is my opinion without any proprietary information, that there is a contingency on the board pushing for the unchallenged appointment of Verletta White as the permanent superintendent. I further believe that, if that contingency had a majority of seven board members, the vote would have already taken place. Instead, I believe that contingency is intentionally creating delay until there is no time to conduct a search, knowing that permission for an extended interim year is extremely low.
That leaves the board only two options in a game of chicken: either name Verletta White as the permanent superintendent in what amounts to a no-bid contract, or vote against her appointment and leave the system without a leader.
If the board conducted a true search and considered other applicants, wouldn’t the public expect board members to automatically rule out any candidates that have ethical violations against them, even if they had good qualifications otherwise? Have we not been down this road before, with disastrous results? I believe Ms. White should be withdrawn as a candidate to open the door for more qualified applicants.
It is my position that board Chairman Gilliss has willfully neglected his duty, grounds for removal per state law. The public must demand now that the board follow a correct process in making decisions that will impact the school system for the next four years.
I write as an individual and not as the spokesman for the Board of Education of Baltimore County.
Ann Miller is an at-large member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County.