By Kerry Ingram
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore County Board of Education voted 8-4 Tuesday to appoint longtime school employee Verletta White as the school system’s new superintendent, despite a recent determination that she violated ethics rules last year.
White, who had been serving as the board’s interim superintendent for the last nine months, earned the title after a heated debate in which supporters said her experience as an educator qualified her for the position while opponents said parents deserved a national search for a new superintendent before such an important decision was made.
White has been a student, teacher and principal in the Baltimore County Public School System and will be the first woman to serve in the top post on a permanent basis. She served as the chief academic officer under former Superintendent Dallas Dance and took over for him when he suddenly resigned last summer under a cloud of perjury allegations.
The board will now be charged with negotiating a salary and benefits package with White, who under state law must serve under on four-year contract beginning July 1.
In a tweet after the meeting, the 50-year-old White said she was “grateful for the opportunity to serve as the permanent superintendent of BCPS,” adding that “it is my honor to work alongside our tremendous team members every day in the best interest of children.”
Supporters of White said her extensive involvement in the education system prior to her interim position proved her worthy of holding such a high-stakes title.
The board’s chairman, Edward J. Gilliss, said White will bring stability and consistency to the school system, adding that her roots in the community was also a benefit.
Others argued that White was not suitable enough for the job, and that the process of immediately appointing her – rather than conducting a proper search for candidates – was irresponsible.
“The people want a full search for the next superintendent,” said Kevin Leary, a Republican who is running for the Maryland State House of Delegates. “This [immediate appointment process] has caused a lot of problems… If you’re running a business, you don’t pick the first person you see. You do interviews.”
School board member Julie Henn agreed with Leary, stating that the county needed to conduct a national search for the next permanent superintendent. Henn said that by automatically appointing White, the board would be failing one of its major “commitments to the public.”
But Nicholas Stewart, who serves as the vice chairperson of the school board, praised White’s character and expertise.
“I do believe that this is one of the most important decisions that we make as a board,” Stewart said. “And I believe that we would be making the right one by offering the permanent [superintendent position] to Ms. White.”
“I can say confidently that Ms. White is a leader,” Stewart added. “She is a bridge-builder. She is a problem-solver. She has a vision and she executes with grit and with grace, as former president Clinton might say.”
Gloria Copper-Blue, a BCPS parent, also spoke in her support of White.
“We do have someone who is here and highly qualified,” Blue said. “That someone is serving as interim. Ms. Verletta White.”
In addition to Henn, board members Kathleen Causey, Ann Miller and Roger Hayden voted no on the appointment.
White’s tenure as interim superintendent has not been without controversy. Several months ago, the school board’s ethics panel found that she violated ethics rules because she did not disclose that she had a consulting job while also serving temporarily as the school system’s top manager.
Opponents have also complained that she was too closely tied to Dance, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of perjury for not revealing that he received $147,000 in payments from a private consulting firm between 2012 and 2015 while he was superintendent. Dance is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.
Causey said White had not performed well enough in office to warrant the job full time. For example, she said the roll out of the system’s new grading and reporting procedures was labeled a “debacle” by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO), the teacher’s union.
“Everything has not been perfect under Ms.White,” Causey said.
“The board never conducted a search, and still has not started an independent audit despite our system receiving national attention over criminal and ethical actions by at least three of our top officials,” said Miller, who called for postponing White’s appointment. “As chief academic officer, Ms. White oversaw endless changes to curricula over several years, which ended in wasted millions and TABCO grievances.”
“Ms. White has not distinguished herself from her predecessor…” Miller added. “Ms. White was found by the board to have violated our ethics code only after seven months as interim superintendent.”