Another unwelcome feather in superintendent’s cap
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 13:45

by Steve Matrazzo

It’s been less than five months since I called on the Baltimore County Board of Education to end S. Dallas Dance’s tenure as superintendent of county schools.
    The board has taken no action in that regard, of course, and there’s no sign that Dance will ever get more than the already-enforced slap on the wrist for taking a “side job” with a private firm training school administrators that  gave every appearance of being both a conflict of interest and a violation of the county’s ethics policy — not to mention his own employment contract.

To recap: 
    In early December, it was reported that Dance was among several top administrators across the country doing “part-time” work for SUPES Academy, a private company that trains school administrators, at the same time that SUPES was being paid to conduct training in Baltimore County.
    That’s right; Dance — who makes a county salary of $255,000 per year ($100,000 more than the county executive) — was making money training administrators elsewhere while the county was paying SUPES nearly $900,000 for the same training.
    This, in spite of the fact that the county’s ethics policy says school officials may not “maintain secondary employment with a business entity that is negotiating with or has entered into a contract with the board or school system.”
    When Dance finally agreed in mid-December to end his association with SUPES, he cited the “distraction” caused by the controversy as the reason.
    That is, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with his actions — just the “distraction.”
    The board, it seems, views the matter in the same way, issuing a statement that it reviewed Dance’s contract and the school system’s ethics policy and found “no indication that Dr. Dance’s performance as superintendent was in any way adversely impacted” by his other work.
    The SUPES matter was not the only issue I raised in January.
    There was the unvarnished careerism apparent in his academic and professional history.
    When hired to lead the county school system, the young candidate — barely over 30 at the time — needed a waiver of the state requirement that superintendents have at least three years of classroom teaching experience.
    Dance had only two years in the classroom. In fact, his average over the course of his career is two years per job, raising sufficient concern that he felt the need to promise he would at least fulfill the four-year term of his contract.
    Then there was Common Core. Implementation of a curriculum designed to meet the Common Core standards was so badly bungled that Dance felt compelled to tell the Baltimore Sun, “I must personally take sole responsibility for the issues and mistakes evident in our ...  curriculum that we implemented this school year.”
    Those words, and a few more aimed at placating teachers upon whom the burden of putting the new curriculum to work in  the classroom fell, wasn’t enough to dissuade the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) from filing a grievance over the number of hours teachers had to work to  implement a curriculum in which they had not been trained, under circumstances described by Dance himself as “building the plane as we fly it.”
    (As noted in a November article by The Eagle’s Bill Gates, “According to contract, teachers must be given training for a new curriculum or program in advance of it going into effect, and the county must provide materials and texts in advance. That has not happened this year, according to TABCO.”)
    Finally, there’s the transparency issue. Locally,  there was an abrupt December 2012 decision to close Eastwood Elementary School and restructure Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools — with deputy school superintendent Kevin Hobbs telling local parents that no decisions had been made regarding the future of the Eastwood building, though the next morning’s announcement of the move of Precinct 12 to Eastwood showed clearly that Hobbs’ statement was false.
    Then there were repeated refusals by the school system to allow an Eagle reporter to view the progress of interior work on the new Dundalk High-Sollers Point Tech campus and report on it — justified with claims about “safety and liability concerns” that were clearly lies, since politicians and others were given tours.
    And now?
    Last month, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced a $1.1 billion program allocating money for new school construction and renovation over the next 10 years — including two projects slated for the Greater Dundalk area.
    As Nicole Rodman reports in this week’s front-page story on the matter, details of the Charlesmont-Battle Grove portion of the plan are hard to come by.
    (Truth be told, the same was true of the Berkshire portion until recently. Nicole has been seeking details on both ever since Kamenetz delivered his budget message, and only got confirmation of the Berkshire plan shortly before this issue went to press.)
    Parents in the Charlesmont-Battle Grove region want to know what the future holds.
    Will there be a new school built? If so, will the current Battle Grove and Charlesmont elementary schools be consolidated? If not, will they be renovated?
    As with Berkshire, getting answers was like pulling teeth, except that what little we have gotten about Charlesmont-Battle Grove is appallingly vague — indicating either continuing obfuscation or foggy aimlessness.
    The county’s promise to seek community input is welcome, but the idea that such an enormous sum of money — ultimately coming from taxpayers — is being budgeted with no particular idea of how it will be spent is troubling.
    The sum of the parts paints a disturbing picture of Dance’s administration:  too much is done in secret, and when it isn’t, too much of it reeks of uncertainty and dubious competence.
    It is past time for Dallas Dance to go.