A Perry Hall resident with children in Baltimore County Public Schools has filed a complaint against interim superintendent Verletta White with the BCPS Ethics Review Panel. The complaint is related to consulting work that White failed to disclose to BCPS officials.
Heather Bergan is asking the panel to review the complaint, and for an investigation by the Office of Internal Audit, as well as an independent audit of BCPS contracts.
Bergan’s complaint came in light of news reports showing that White did not disclose payments she received from the Education and Research Development Institute (ERDI). ERDI acts as a middleman between education-technology companies seeking contracts with schools and school superintendents.
According to ERDI’s website: “Panels of expert superintendents provide honest, candid insight and feedback that clients typically incorporate to upgrade their products and services and to modify their marketing plans … In addition to the panel session, ERDI conferences include different social events to help clients truly harness the power of networking with these top educational leaders.”
ERDI clients have won contracts with BCPS worth tens of millions of dollars — some of which were no-bid contracts, meaning the winning firm had no competition.
Bergan also said in her complaint that because White’s predecessor, former Superintendent Dallas Dance, had already been reprimanded for failing to disclose other consulting income, it should have been obvious to White that the income needed to be reported.
Board of Education member Ann Miller said she was concerned about White’s lack of disclosure, “but even more concerned about the potential broader implication related to her relationship with ERDI.”
“I think we need to look into our contracts to see if there might be a relationship with ERDI partners or clients,” said Miller, who in the past filed a Freedom-of-Information request to get information about Dance’s relationship with ed-tech companies.
State Sen. Jim Brochin, who is running for county executive, has already called on the state to conduct a full audit of all contracts related to BCPS’ tech initiative; Miller said she supports that move.
Edward Gilliss, chairman of the Board of Education, said he could not discuss the complaint.
“The Board’s process is that ethics complaints are private and are assigned to and handled by the Board’s Ethics Panel,” Gilliss said in an email. “That process precludes any further Board comment.”
BCPS declined to make White available for an interview and instead pointed to the statement she made after the news reports about her failure to disclose the payments.
“The fact of the matter is that the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI) is not a technology company. It is an educational research and development company, meaning that ERDI coordinates efforts for companies and educators to collaborate on products and services that are in development. Sales are not involved in this process. This process is purely for feedback,” White’s statement said in part.
“The developers know their products, and the educators know how to best meet the needs of students. I have never been paid by a company doing business with our school system, and the school system has never paid for trips where I participated as a consultant. ERDI does not conduct any business with BCPS. I participated in these sessions on my own time, using vacation days, to do so. These are the facts,” her statement said. “I promise each of you that I will not make that mistake again, but more importantly, I will not allow an honest oversight to be misconstrued as something untoward or unethical.”
Attorney Joseph M. Schnitzer, who chairs the BCPS ethics panel, said he could not comment because he had not yet seen the complaint.
The full ethics complaint can be viewed here.