ANNAPOLIS — The interim head of the Baltimore County Public Schools system said she is prepared to do what it takes to restore confidence in a school system that is beset with ethical questions.
Verletta White, interim superintendent of the 133,000-student Baltimore County Public Schools system, made the first of two appearances before state lawmakers, some of whom expressed concerns regarding her own failure to report income on required financial disclosure forms.
“We’ll do whatever we need to do to restore public trust,” said White during a Friday meeting with Baltimore County’s state Senate delegation.
Some lawmakers and others have called for an outside audit of the school system and its contractual relationships. Currently, the school system is conducting one that will look back to 2014.
“I believe in our team. I believe in our staff and I believe in the school system,” said White. “There is nothing to hide, so I would be open to any type of audit, legislative or otherwise.”
White made her comments in the same week that her predecessor, S. Dallas Dance, was indicted on four counts of perjury for failing to report outside income on required financial disclosure forms. Each count carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail.
Some lawmakers said growing public concern over the scandal is tarnishing the reputation of the system as a whole.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, said White, as the interim superintendent, must do what it takes to shore up the system’s reputation.
“What’s happened now is Baltimore County has been put in a bad light,” said Jennings, before pointing to reporters and TV crews gathered in the small conference room. “If news (about Dance) hadn’t broken this week I guarantee you none of these cameras would be here.”
White, who has called for an independent audit paid for by the system, said she wants the public to have faith in the school system that she graduated from and now leads.
“If the public would feel more assured that practices are sound through a legislative audit, that’s fine,” said White. “We really don’t care what kind of an audit we do. We just want to make sure we restore the public’s trust.
White is facing ethics questions of her own. The Baltimore Sun reported that White had also failed to disclose income earned as a consultant.
White, in opening remarks to the Baltimore County Senate delegation, immediately sought to address concerns about an erosion of public trust in the school system.
“I think we should address the elephant in the room, because I know what’s on your mind and I know what’s on the public’s mind, as well,” said White.
From 2013 to 2017, White worked as a consultant for Chicago-based Education Research & Development Institute, a company that works with technology companies that sell products to school systems. She was paid about $3,000 annually to attend meetings twice a year, according to the Baltimore Sun.
But White failed to report that income until those published reports. White said she “admitted my mistake” and amended her reports.
Similarly, Dance was indicted for failing to disclose $4,600 paid to him by the same company in 2015, according to court records.
White told lawmakers her situation was very different from that of Dance.
“I can’t speak for (Dance) I can only speak for me,” White said. “And speaking for myself, I’d say this: The difference is intention. When you’re talking about whether or not there is willful intention to leave something out in order to mislead someone, that to me is significant and is not consistent with who I am and who people know me to be. There has never been any intention to willfully mislead anyone.”
White called the the ethics forms confusing but said she didn’t think she needed to disclose income from any source if it didn’t have a contract with the schools system. She said she believes some school board members have also amended their disclosures as a result of similar misunderstandings.
“I think when you are looking at someone’s heart and considering whether or not they are the real deal you have to look at their background. You have to look at who they are, and you have to look at intention. I never had any intention for any wrongdoing, nor will I.”
White said she didn’t seek legal advice on how to fill out the forms.
Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate delegation and a Democratic candidate for county executive, questioned White’s decision not to include the ERDI payments after a county ethics review found that Dance should have disclosed payments from an adjunct teaching position at University of Richmond. That university also does not do business directly with the county school system.
“To me, it’s apples and oranges,” White said without much elaboration. “One is the University of Richmond and the other is ERDI.”
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