President's Message

WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED ?

As I listened to the news on the radio, recently, I was dumbfounded by the announcement. The newscaster stated that the school board for Baltimore County Public Schools had elected to make Verletta White the permanent superintendent of the school system by an 8 to 4 vote. Why would they do that? I asked. After all, just two weeks earlier this same board elected to hire a national search firm to recommend possible candidates for the permanent superintendent’s position, and board president Ed Gilliss clarified the board’s position by saying that all options were still on the table, including making Ms. White the permanent superintendent. So why would they turn around two weeks latter and make a permanent hire and forget about the national search? Had pressure been brought to bear on those eight board members who voted for Ms. White? Was it just a case of the board being dysfunctional, as the Baltimore Sun has accused at times? Or was it simply a change of heart?

Whatever the motivation for the board’s action, this was a major mistake in my mind. I had never accepted Ms. White’s explanation that she was confused by the financial disclosure forms when she failed to report payments from Education Research & Development Institute, a Chicago based company that represents technology firms that have contracts with BCPS. If these disclosure forms are the same as those required for candidates to the elected school board positions, the language is straight forward. The forms simply ask for other sources of income, and the respondent is asked to declare the sources of the income and the amount of income. Further, if Ms. White found this or other requirements of the form to be confusing, the Board of Education has lawyers on staff. So why wouldn’t she ask one of those lawyers for an explanation of what the form required?

The school board’s timing on the appointment leaves many questions. For example, the board is currently awaiting an audit to see if any contracts with technology companies show signs of improprieties. Why wouldn’t the board wait until after the audit to make a permanent appointment? Additionally, there are now three school system employees who have had their reputations tarnished- Dance, White and Barrett. Should the public believe that the totality of the improprieties has been discovered, or are there other offenders who have not been caught? So far, emphasis has been placed on the technology contracts between BCPS and various vendors, but what about the school construction budget? Traditionally, construction contracts are tempting vehicles for improprieties. Finally, why would the outgoing school board not defer to the school board to be elected in November about a permanent superintendent? Most of Ms. White’s tenure will be with that new, elected school board.

I’m not sure that these and other questions will be answered by the current school board. Hopefully, an elected school board in the future will be more accountable for their actions.

Most recently, in a surprising response to the many questions surrounding Ms. White’s appointment, the State Superintendent of schools, Karen Salmon, announced that she could not approve Ms. White for the permanent position. The ethics violations weighed heavily in the State Superintendent’s decision, but she also conceded that if an audit did not disclose any further problems, she may be willing to approve Ms. White for the permanent post in the future. In the meantime, the State Superintendent would approve Ms. White for a second year of interim status.

All of this leaves the situation very muddied. The current school board needs to figure out its next move, probably reappointing Ms. White for a second, interim year. Verletta White, meanwhile, continues to fully acknowledge her own shortcomings by declining to be interviewed after the State decision, and by stating that “ I … believe that the allegations raised by some concerning my character have been based a speculation and not fact.” Sadly, she still does not want to accept full responsibility for improperly filling out her ethics forms.

Eric Rockel, President