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Op-ed: More disclosure could have avoided BCPS controversies

An op-ed from BCPS board member Ann Miller

I submitted a request for information to the Baltimore County Public Schools Board Chairman in October 2015, two months before I was sworn in as a board member so that BCPS would have time to prepare answers for me and provide them after my confirmation in December. The reason I did this was that my first board meeting was the second meeting in December, and the board was voting on both the annual operating budget and the renewal of Dallas Dance as superintendent at the first meeting in February (about six weeks later).

The main items requested include:

  • List of all no-bid contracts issued and reason for no-bid; identify which were piggyback contracts, and indicate whether original contract terms were used by BCPS and reason why if not
  • Legislative Services Audit of Procurement Practices: status on meeting audit recommendations
  • Evidence that all requirements of waiver were met, when and how
  • Explanation of Dr. Dance’s relationship with SUPES Academy and its spinoff organizations prior to the ethics complaint filing and now
  • Does Dr. Dance have any arrangement with SUPES or any of its spinoff organizations regarding compensation or future employment for himself or his family members?
  • Evidence of donation of compensation to Education Foundation
  • How many BCPS principals or other staff were trained at SUPES? How long was the training?
  •  Date and description of participation in panels, giving talks, advisory groups, boards/committees participation, interviews, advertisements, etc. If travel was required, dates and locations.
  • List of other BCPS employees who also participated in the above events or provided preparation work (Powerpoints, travel arrangements, speechwriting, research, etc.)
  • Copies of any presentation materials, including speeches and Powerpoints
  • List of all organizations to which the superintendent belonged during contract term, dates of membership/involvement, nature of involvement, associated costs and who paid them, Dance’s responsibilities to the organization
 Note that my questions came to me with no proprietary information; I was a stakeholder who watched, listened, talked to people and asked questions, just like every member of the public can do.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Dance asked the board to vote on his renewal in November, prior to the beginning of my term, even though state law required that the formal vote take place in February. Also in November, there was an orchestrated move to publicly discredit me for being an outspoken Republican and demand that my appointment be revoked. Governor Hogan, thankfully, stood by his appointment selection.

Unfortunately, answers were not furnished to me in December, and I had to resubmit them to the new board chairman again after being sworn in. The answers provided were insufficient to me, so I submitted a Public Information Act request in January 2016, as there were only four weeks remaining before key votes were to take place. Some answers were provided, but BCPS was going to charge me $5,500 in order to provide the remaining information. The answers to my PIA were given to me on the afternoon of the meeting in which these votes occurred in February, but were still incomplete.

After the February vote, I submitted a follow-up PIA in April, which is also posted on my Facebook page, BCPS Board Member Ann Miller, to attempt to get questions answered that applied directly to the employment contract details of Dr. Dance. The vote on his employment contract was in May 2016. At the time of that vote, there was a pending ethics complaint against Dr. Dance which later produced findings of two ethics violations.

Fellow board member Kathleen Causey and I shared similar concerns, asked similar questions, and got similar responses. Neither board chair would facilitate in getting the information we had requested from BCPS. None of our fellow board members at that time desired answers to our questions or even felt compelled to support our demands for answers. We continue to ask questions to this day, along with newer members Julie Henn and Roger Hayden.

Had the board chair acted on our behalf to get answers, many of the controversies that have arisen since that time might have been avoided or at least mitigated. The full board could have been better informed to make sound votes on key system issues.

Initial request, Oct. 2015

Jan. 2016 request

April 2016 request 

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