A former employee of Baltimore County Public Schools has filed an ethics complaint against BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance in which he questions, among other things, whether Dance is spending too much time on outside speaking engagements.
William Groth of Perry Hall, who worked at BCPS for 35 years — about half that time as a teacher and half as a technology specialist — said in an interview that he is concerned about the number of speeches that Dr. Dance gives.
“At some point you have to ask yourself, how many is too many? And how much time away from the district is too much time?” Groth said. “We just want the ethics review board to take a look a this. If there is nothing wrong and they say ‘We found nothing,’ then so be it. If, on other hand, they find there is other evidence of impropriety, we ask them to do something about it.”
Groth said he has been meeting with up to 30 other BCPS “stakeholders” who share his concerns. He said he was out of town when it came time to file the complaint, so BCPS school board member Ann Miller filed it for him.
“I think all the points made in the [ethics] complaint are valid concerns and relate to issues the board should be addressing as we consider the details of the superintendent’s employment contract renewal,” Miller said in an email. “The vote is on the agenda for tomorrow night’s [May 10] board meeting, and I am concerned and have been expressing my concerns to the board that the vote is premature as we have not received information requested by board members nor had the opportunity to make motions on amendments.”
“The issues raised by the ethics complaint should give the board pause to fully consider the contract from the point-of-view of the school system’s best interests, not just the superintendent’s,” she added. “I see strong evidence that Dr. Dance is violating both the ethics code and his employment contract.”
The ethics complaint has not been made pubic, but Groth spelled out the main points of his complaint in an email:
Dr. Dance’s employment as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond is in violation of his employment contract and Maryland Code 4-202, which states in (b)(2) “Each county superintendent shall devote full time to public school business.”
Dr. Dance’s profile on orate.me, posting speaking fees of $5,000 per event, is in violation of both Maryland Code 4-202 … and Board Policies 8363 and 3127. … Dr. Dance cannot both be representing the BCPS school system and engaging in outside paid employment at the same time. If he is being paid for speaking engagements, then he is engaging in outside employment. This situation raises ethical questions about who is paying for his time, travel expenses, and presentation materials, as well as how much other Board employees are engaging in the activity with him. For more details, see Exhibit A.
BCPS spokesman Mychael Dickerson said that Dance did not set up the Orate profile — which has been taken off the site — and that it is a “fake account.”
“Dr. Dance’s personal lawyers are investigating with the company to determine who set it up and when,” Dickerson said.
He confirmed that Dance teaches “Foundations of Education” each semester at the University of Richmond. It is an online class and he does not travel to Virginia to teach it, Dickerson said.
Groth also said that he is alleging that Dance’s financial reporting forms, which are required by BCPS ethics code, are incomplete and fail to mention his adjunct teaching and other paid work.
In 2014, Dance was found to be in violation of the ethics code for acting as a paid consultant to SUPES Academy, which came just after BCPS signed an $875,000 contract with the company.
Groth also said:
The extensive nature of Dr. Dance’s outside activities violate the terms of his employment contract. Although there is language in his employment contract which permits certain outside activities, they are limited by the stipulation in 12.1 that they are permitted “so long as none of these activities interferes with the superintendent’s performance of his duties under this contract.” There is an increasing trend for more speaking engagements by the superintendent and other BCPS staff. The more extensive his speaking engagement schedule becomes, the harder it is to justify a legitimate school system benefit. For more details, see Exhibit E.
Dance was not paid for any of the speaking engagements listed in the document that Groth provided (Exhibit E), Dickerson said. And Dance’s employment contract does say he may accept payment for work outside the scope of his BCPS job as long as it does not interfere with his work for the school system.
Dance’s current employment contract gives him an annual salary of $255,000, a BCPS car and other benefits.
Groth also said:
Promotional videos which promote commercial interests such as ed-tech companies, and show BCPS students and staff, are in violation of Board Policies 8361 and 8363 X.B which states “No school system official will be permitted to use, for commercial purposes, any photographs or information including, but not limited to, test scores and other confidential data.”
This activity also violates Board Policy 8363 VI.A which states “A school system official may not intentionally use the prestige of office or public position for private gain of that official or the private gain of another.”
Policy 8361 I.C states “It is evident that this confidence and trust is eroded when the conduct of public business is subject to improper influence and even the appearance of improper influence.” For more details, see Exhibit G.
Dance “will cooperate fully” in the ethics complaint process, Dickerson said, adding that “Dr. Dance supports and follows the policies and rules of the school system.”
Groth said that aside from ethics-based concerns, he is also worried about “the speed of change” that is happening at BCPS related to the use of technology. Dance has introduced a STAT program (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), which among other things will provide individual laptops to all K-12 BCPS students. (Groth’s wife, Anne, has written about her concerns about technology taking over classrooms. She is also a former teacher.)
“My concern goes deeper than just a laptop for each child. He also talks about an electronic-based curriculum that’s available on [BCPS’s website] that in essence provides video game-like training for our students,” William Groth said. “I’m concerned that while it’s been requested, nobody from Baltimore County schools shows us research that this concept has been proven to work — not assumed to work, looks like it might work, but proven to work. Because every child gets just one shot at a quality eduction.”
Groth said he credits Gov. Larry Hogan’s school board appointees — they are Kathleen Causey; June Eaton; Nicholas Stewart; Stephen Verch; and Deeksha Walia — for closely evaluating the Baltimore County school system.
Miller was also put on the school board by Hogan, and her appointment drew heavy criticism because of her conservative views and her opposition to Common Core.
“There had been a tendency on the board to simply approve anything,” Groth said. “Only since they were brought on has there been any attempt to challenge or ask questions and do due diligence and get answers before taking gigantic leaps of faith.”