By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO
Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon recently made what some argue is a controversial decision to deny final approval of Verletta White’s appointment as permanent superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, despite an 8-4 affirmative vote by county school board members last month. Three of four school board members voting against White actively lobbied for Salmon’s involvement, writing letters and encouraging others in the county to do the same.
On May 8, the county school board met again, and with a second 8-4 vote favoring White, asked Salmon to reconsider her decision. Board members will allegedly produce documents showing ethics violations White admitted to earlier this year are not indicative of a pattern of dishonesty akin to the scandal that led to a six-month prison sentence for former superintendent Dallas Dance on perjury for failing to report nearly $147,00 in consulting income. School board members also argue an expanded audit of the county school district’s contracts will be undertaken soon.
White says she is determined to lead lBaltimore County public school students, teachers and employees of the state’s third largest school system, through these current challenges.
“My focus is on our 113,000 students. No matter which way the political winds blow, our focus is on children,” said White to the AFRO at the school system’s Greenwood campus in Towson.
“I’m not a politician, I’m not an elected official. There’s a time and space for those who are called to do that. My mission is to stay focused on children.”
However, the four school board members who voted against White’s appointment stand by their original position. White, who has spent most of her career with the county school system, has a month and a half left on her interim contract. By law, Baltimore County must have a permanent superintendent or an interim under contract by July 1.
“I think the way through it is to stay focused. We have kids in classroom seats right now. They can’t wait, and they shouldn’t have to wait for us to figure all of this out,” White said.
“We have teachers in front of kids who are working hard every day. They’re focused, so we can’t afford to lose our focus.”
Salmon can rescind her decision to deny White’s permanent appointment based on new information from the school board, or approve a second interim year for White, an option she reportedly said she would consider. Baltimore County will transition to an elected-appointed school board in November with seven elected seats and five that will continue to be appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Currently, all 12 school board seats are appointed.
White said she recognizes there is work to be done with disgruntled school board members and Baltimore County parents and community members, who need to rebuild trust with the school system after Dance’s conviction and news of White’s ethics violations. White failed to report $13,000 in additional consulting income from ERDI (Education Research and Development Institute), on personnel documents but admitted receiving the income and has submitted revised forms. She has reportedly pledged to refrain from further consulting opportunities and has taken the step of releasing the ethics report to the public.
White said she is learning lessons about tenacity that she has already passed forward, encouraging students to stay the course when challenges arise.
“I had the benefit this past Friday, of meeting with a group of girls who had been through a lot,” White said.
“They asked me about this experience. I think it teaches about grit and perseverance and it also renews my confirmed purpose.”