Schools emergency funds and retirees’ health care benefits to be tapped to pay for STAT? Updated 5/20

Close-up Of Auditor Inspecting Financial Documents At Desk

See new updates, including another tug-of-war between Maryland school officials and county schools over funding issues–an apparent state school board refusal to okay $4 million in ongoing curricula as a covered one-time expense. Oh, and 388 unfilled positions. See also, copy of full report linked below. 

A scathing County Auditor’s report on the school district’s laptop-per-student program known as STAT reveals BCPS plans to tap an “unprecedented” level of emergency funds for next year, nearly $32 million. Leaders might also shore up the controversial digital initiative via a fund for retirees’ health benefits.

There’s a clear fiscal crisis pending it seems—including Baltimore County Public Schools pulling $31.8 million from the district’s fund balance, a year-end surplus also known as an emergency fund. Using such funds at that level, which the report terms “historically high,” highlights the digital initiative’s unsustainability over time.

The proposed 2018-19 budget for BCPS “relies upon the use of an unprecedented level” of BCPS’ “fund balance as a revenue source,” the county Office of the Auditor budget analysis notes. “Such a fund balance, by the school system’s own projections, will not be available at a similar magnitude in future years.” (See details footnote 1 below, and link to report here.)

Under STAT, as continued by current Interim Superintendent Verletta White, there will be ongoing four-year turnover of laptop leases–massive spending now approaching $300 million for the program’s first several years alone (The 2014 $205 million laptop contract–more than $110 million of which has been spent so far and counting with current leases, according to school officials. Another contract “refresh” for a separate $140 million was recently awarded to the same bidder Daly Computers/HP this spring, plus $17 million in additional 4-year contracts for tech services (see footnote 2).

Such staggering amounts far outpace other school districts nationwide and do not include the many software curricula, tech infrastructure, and related costs for tens of millions more annually. And BCPS’ one-to-one juggernaut is expanding, despite such 1:1 programs’ ongoing financial woes and lukewarm student outcomes. See recent PCWorld’s “Who Needs Computers in the Classroom? Not Students: The money is better spent on sincere and hardworking teachers.”

An outside audit, based on widening local and state concern over such costs and contracts, finally went up for a vote, and was approved by the school board.

Compare such pay outs to another startling BCPS figure that belies claims that tech is not replacing teachers: The district has 388 positions “vacant as of April 15, 2018,” mostly instructional and transportation jobs. This number has trended high, nearly triple the amount of unfilled jobs in 2012, when former superintendent Dallas Dance was hired, and planning for the digital initiative began (for details, see p. 14, auditor budget analysis). Are positions being left open to pay for STAT?

In addition, the County Office of the Auditor pointed out that the county’s proposed FY 2019 budget for BCPS totals $1.7 billion, with a general fund increase of $28.3 million including “new funding for the S.T.A.T. program, and funding for curriculum materials. These increases are significantly offset by the elimination of retiree healthcare funding, which totaled $25 million in FY 2018.

It’s unclear what that “elimination” means, though it apparently does not mean that employee or retiree health care benefits have been cut entirely, or that coverage won’t be available to future retirees (benefits, however, have been trimmed back previously, as a percentage of health costs covered etc., according to county documents). Recent discussion among county and school officials instead described a “budget appropriation transfer” from the retirees’ fund reserve, apparently to be used to pay for STAT. This raises questions re: possible raiding of the fund. Or an ongoing countywide tapping of underfunded retirement and outside-pension employee benefits (OPEB) monies?

Update: A recent county “Spending Affordability Committee” report noted concern about “policy decisions that have put at risk future retirement health care benefits for the County’s current employees and retirees, as well as saddled the County with long-term commitments that are unaffordable under the current revenue structure.” Will update as details become available.

The County Office of the Auditor’s budget analyses inform the council and county leadership, who then determine appropriate funding for county departments, including schools. A budget work session was held in council chambers in Towson on May 17, in which BCPS cited misleading score claims and related. Previously, the three Republican county council members (Wade Kach, David Marks, and Todd Crandall) voted to strip $14 million from the schools’ STAT program, but were outvoted by Democrats on the council.

Spending priorities also seem way out of line. The county administration has mostly allowed multi-million dollar increases for STAT, yet for the proposed budget for next year: School safety measures — “one-time maintenance funds of $644,800 were requested to update software operating the card door access control system which provides security to all schools; however, the County Executive did not fund this request,” the report notes (footnote 3).

Laptops in high schools certainly make more sense, but the latest $140 mill round to HP/Daly Computers created yet another scandal, still costing twice an industry standard and well above other Maryland counties. Such expenditures top ongoing questionable in-development education software being tested on district children, totaling more than $60 million in no-bid contracts yet to be audited. For example, $10 million alone to Discovery Education in a no-bid contract for online “techbooks” and related.

Baltimore County Council members, executive leadership, and state representatives should review this analysis closely and judiciously. The report also offers options to “slow the rapid proposed growth in BCPS spending,” i.e. burdensome laptop costs, and possibly provide devices in elementary schools on carts (as most digital districts pursue) not assigned 1:1 in lower grades. Such moves would save $14 million or more next year, and avoid a scenario that seems to be threatening state Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements, a state formula for school funding. Approval “as is” might also lock the county in to higher taxpayer-funded contributions for years to come.

As the auditor’s budget analysis stated: “it is important to note that committing ongoing funds above the MOE level represents a binding funding commitment. Once the Council appropriates such funds, the County is unable to “pull back” its spending authorization on a per-pupil basis – in the upcoming fiscal year or in future fiscal years.”

Additional update**: The Maryland State Board of Education (MSDE), in an apparently unusual move, refused a schools’ exemption request for $4 million in added curricula to be categorized as a “one-time” cost the state would cover; (most of the digital curriculum is set by multi-year contracts, and thus is not necessarily one-time). This could send additional funding commitments back to the county or schools, causing the BCPS budget to soar to nearly $30 million over the state’s MOE requirement. The district has appealed the decision (see footnote 4).

This $4 million and other curriculum contracts also run contrary to previous promises that digital curricula would only cost $1 million annually. In a KQED story in 2014, digital director Ryan Imbriale said BCPS would “move its entire curriculum online and make it available to teachers and students. He estimates that the district will spend more than $1 million a year on digital resources for its 108,376 students.” (BCPS One, also mentioned in the story, adds another $2.5 million or so annually in software/platform fees and related to several vendors, school records show. Now Schoology, Inc. will apparently be contracted for more than $3 million over five years, replacing one of those vendors, Engrade, which the district says was paid out $3.4 million by early January this year. (see footnote 5).

Among other elements to review, excerpts from the Office of the Auditor schools budget analysis for 2018-19 include:

“S.T.A.T. Program Funding (3505-0415)
A number of options exist for scaling back S.T.A.T program funding. This analysis identifies two such options. Each option would reduce the appropriation to Education’s “Other Instructional Costs” Program (3505), which does not include any salary costs.

Option A: Reduce S.T.A.T. funding above MOE, suggesting that the Board concentrate funding at the middle school level and provide loaner devices to interested high school students ($25 million conservative projection)….

Option B: Reduce S.T.A.T. funding by cost of new lease, suggesting that the Board consider a revised implementation for grades 6-12 rather than grades 1-12 ($14 million).….

Lastly, among other costs/school needs to be covered, “BCPS should be prepared to discuss, including:

  • · Multi-year plans to increase the number of guidance counselors, social workers, pupil personnel workers, and psychologists;
  • · Specific details on the roles of the School Climate Core School-Based Support Teams;

Overall, after years of leadership controversy at the county public schools, it seems rather clear that fiscal professionals in-the-know understand that the costs and 1st-12th grade implementation of this laptop-per-student program are unsustainable. School and county leaders need to look out for schools that have numerous other unmet needs: 388 unfilled positions, a bulk of those instructional roles; current teachers who must pay money out of their own pockets for classroom supplies; principals facing slashed school discretionary budgets; students in need of staff support; and taxpayers who are footing the bill for an apparently ill-thought-out corporate-backed tech initiative in county schools.

See also “Priorities in a School System Where Nearly Half of Students Live in Poverty.”

This opinion post to be updated. — Joanne C. Simpson

Postscript 5/18:

The future projections for county and school retirees’ health care benefits remains unclear. No one has yet explained the “elimination” of $25 mill, and other cuts or “budget appropriation transfers.” Though it does not appear to be an elimination of retiree health care benefits, questions should be answered:

What is the story? Where is the $25 mill coming from and what exactly is being eliminated? Was there some kind of one-time surplus or “budget appropriation transfer to move money” to STAT under a line item known as “instructional costs.” Overall, why isn’t any and all surplus/reserve then going back into the retirement benefits fund to make sure it is highly-funded?

This might be an overall county issue: BCPS “participates in the Baltimore County government self-insured program for employee and retiree health, dental, and vision care,” as the school budget notes. Yet the $25 million cited? If transferred, could this be just utilizing another fund, or–with rules governing employees’ and retirees’ benefits–a misappropriation of funds? Is BCPS contributing to the fund per employee, and if so enough? And lastly, the employee pension fund in Baltimore County seems a tempting revenue source. Are county taxpayers facing a long-deferred tax hike, or a government pension debacle that might come back to haunt the county and school district in a market downturn–or longterm?

Stakeholders should ask school board members to clarify this issue as well as cuts to services, and overall siphoning off of money from “all areas of operations” for STAT, including school discretionary budgets and numerous important areas of need all around.

For more info on increased funding for STAT, see also p. 93 of the 2018-19 BCPS proposed budget: “Contracted services increase 21.2% primarily due to the increased leasing costs associated with final year of implementation of the S.T.A.T. program, providing one to one devices for students; providing audio visual upgrades,” etcetera, etcetera.

Footnotes 5/20:

1. The “fund balance, by the school system’s own projections, will not be available at a similar magnitude in future years (see page 83 of the FY 2019 Board Proposed Operating Budget).” Some of that money was cached for STAT’s wider rollout, but BCPS’ own projections show that not enough surplus will be available regardless. “The proposed budget relies on the use of approximately $31.8 million of BCPS’s fund balance, which BCPS projects will total $29.7 million at the end of FY 2018 and $17.0 million at the end of FY 2019.”

2. Re: maintenance, vendors are apparently tackling all of the district’s tech at the same time?: “BCPS issued an RFP for contractors to provide skilled network support and maintenance technicians for the Department of Information Technology. On May 8, 2018, the Board of Education approved the four-year, 1-month $17.3 million contract with 27 vendors for the support and maintenance of the technology hardware and network used in schools and offices, including the digital devices.”

3. See pages 18 and 19 of the county auditor’s budget analysis to see what specific costs were not funded by the county, and elsewhere to see what was expanded, such as ESOL services.

4. Regarding the maintenance of effort (MOE) formulas the state uses to determine funding to schools. This is pretty complicated (again, see budget analysis itself), but the nitty gritty is here:

“The proposed budget exceeds the State’s MOE requirement by $29.8 million, which would increase the County’s MOE requirement by $273 per student for FY 2020. (On May 4, 2018, the County’s Office of Budget and Finance advised that it submitted an appeal to MSDE to reconsider its decision to disapprove $4 million in one-time curriculum costs as an exclusion to MOE; should MSDE reverse its decision, BCPS’s budget would exceed MOE by $25.8 million).”

“As of May 16, 2018, Baltimore County’s proposed FY 2019 General Fund budget exceeds the Spending Affordability Committee’s spending guideline by approximately $4 million due to MSDE’s disapproval of an MOE exclusion request by the County; an appeal of this disapproval is pending (should MSDE not reverse its decision, the proposed budget would be $29.8 million above MOE).”

5. Re: Schoology, BCPS contract records note: “This is a new contract to provide a learning environment to host student performance, grades, curriculum, content, assessments, professional development and communication tools for staff, students, parents and the community. Approval is requested for a five (5) year contract with one (1) recommended bidder and contract spending authority of $3,037,620. The Learning Management System (LMS) is a learning environment used by BCPS staff, educators, students, and parents in the teaching and learning process. LMS supports an interconnected system of curriculum, content, assessment, and communication tools. This contract will replace contract JNI-749-13 [Engrade] which will expire on October 1, 2018. The average annual expenditures on contract JNI-749-13 were $691,000 and total contract expenditures are $3,455,302,” according to BCPS records on the Schoology contract up for approval in early January. So, that would make a likely total of more than $7 million for what is essentially an online grading book with teacher contact info? 

For additional background info: Apparently the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which had a troubled tablet program, approved only a one-year contract at first to see how it went. BCPS has tried out and paid out to several vendors for BCPS, including the problematic Safari Montage, with another multi-million dollar contract.

 

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Board of Education Approves $140-million HP Device Contract

At its April 3 meeting, the Baltimore County Board of Education approved the contract to lease and refresh 133,000 new HP devices for students, teachers, and staff.  The BOE was supposed to have voted on the contract at its March 20 meeting, which was canceled due to inclement weather.

In spite of warnings posted here about overspending

and published here about efficacy and opportunity costs,

the contract was approved, which means BCPS is locked in to another 7 years of S.T.A.T.  The fact that a major vote was taken knowing that the person who brought the program to BCPS, Dr. Dallas Dance, will soon serve jail time, and that, based on this, legislators have agreed that an audit of ed-tech-related contracts is warranted, makes it all the more unbelievable that this took place.

March 6 BOE Meeting Device Q&A

JMI-604-18 HARDWARE, SOFTWARE AND SERVICES TO PROVIDE A ONE-TO- ONE DEVICE PROGRAM FOR STUDENTS AND STAFF

  1. $140,000,000
  2. 133,000 devices rolled out over 4 years for 7-year total contract (14″ HP Elitebook X360 1030 G2 for teachers and staff members, $1,549; 11″ HP ProBook X360 11 G2 EE for students, $906)

Original Contract (MWE-807-14): 7 years (through 6/30/21) with 13-year extension, estimated contract authority: $205,000,000 = $29,285,714/year

Technology as Teacher: Consulting Firm with Ties to Baltimore County Had Big Plans

More great work from local journalist Ann Costantino.  Reprinted from the February 3rd Baltimore Post.

If there ever were any doubt about the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI) and its promotion of educational technology to school systems, a July 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference makes it abundantly clear.

One conference presenter in particular had a very specific message at the Atlanta event for education leaders and their school systems: that computer-centered learning for kindergarten through 12th grade was coming, and those in the audience would be making the changes – very soon.

“I want to give you a quick and conceptual look at why I think the pivot to ‘personalized digital learning’ is a really big deal, like one of the three or four of the most important things happening in the world,” said Tom Vander Ark, an author, speaker and investor in more than 70 technology companies.  “Secondly, I’m going to talk about how that’s going to happen in most of your schools,” he said.

In the audience, along with other education leaders, was former Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) superintendent, Dr. Joe Hairston.  Hairston, who reported the trip to his education board, immediately preceded Dr. S. Dallas Dance, who left the school system in June.

Dance, who was indicted last week on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose $147,000 of income he made as a consultant and speaker for almost a dozen companies and organizations, also withheld disclosure of a payment amounting to more than $4,000 from ERDI that the indictment said he received in 2015.

ERDI, an education consulting company based in Illinois, which pays education leaders to meet with its education product and services clients, says it provides a unique opportunity for superintendents to provide valuable feedback on its clients’ products.   But the unique access vendors are given to school system leaders, such as Dance, has been questioned in school systems as far as California, Chicago, Ohio, Iowa and even B.C. Canada.  Namely, concerns have been raised about potential conflicts of interest.  Especially troubling are contracts awarded to ERDI’s technology clients by the very school leaders who met with them.

In a November Op-Ed posted in the Towson Flyer, Joanne C. Simpson wrote that in Baltimore County there have been “about a dozen clients that have been awarded high-dollar contracts with BCPS.”  Included: “Discovery Education ($10 million); Code to the Future ($987,000); NWEA, MAP-testing provider ($3.9 million); McGraw Hill ($15.6 million);  Curriculum Associates/iReady ($3.2 million); DreamBox Learning ($3.2 million); and other for-profit companies whose multi-million dollar ‘contract spending authorities’ were approved by the Baltimore County Board of Education over the past five years—under the tenure of former superintendent Dallas Dance. The contracts are currently in place.”

Yet ERDI maintains it pairs its clients with school system leaders for the purpose of improving education products and services.  Its clients – which are comprised largely of education technology vendors – pay ERDI $13,000 to $66,000 in membership fees according to a rate card published in November by The New York Times.

Superintendents are then paid $500-$2,000 by ERDI to sit on panels with ERDI’s clients.

The result, some say, are new or increased contracts in school systems awarded after district leaders met with vendors.

The New York Times reported in November, for instance, that Dance met with two ERDI vendors in February of last year.  DreamBox, which provides game-based math software, and Curriculum Associates (iReady) sells reading software.  Five months after Dance met with each company, Baltimore County’s school board increased the school system’s spending authority with the vendors by $1.8 million and $2 million, respectively.

But while critics say ERDI provides opportunities for clients to sell to superintendents, the 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference provided more than just that.

Presenter Vander Ark told the audience at the Discovery Education-sponsored event to start “piloting upper division, online courses.”  He said, “Stop offering (Advanced Placement) AP courses” in the classroom.  Instead, “offer those online.  You can offer all 32 (classes) at consistent quality for less money than you’re currently doing it,” he said.  (BCPS has a $10 million contract with Discovery Education, a provider of digital curriculum.)

Previous Superintendent Hairston, who also served as chair for ERDI’s Superintendents Board of Directors starting in 2007, would leave BCPS one year after the conference. Hairston retired after 12 years serving as BCPS’s superintendent.  His last day was June 30, 2012.

The following day, the energetic and visionary, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, would take the helm, only to announce a system-wide personalized learning technology initiative eight months later.

Changes to curriculum, grading policies, Advanced Placement (AP), Special Education, language instruction, and the school system’s Gifted and Talented program would quickly follow Dance’s 2013 announcement. And a five-year strategic plan for S.T.A.T., the district’s laptop-for-every-child digital curriculum initiative, would roll-out full steam ahead.  (S.T.A.T. stands for Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow.)

Then in 2014, Baltimore County’s education board would commit $205 million to the program and, later that year, Dance’s S.T.A.T. program would debut in 10 Baltimore County Public Schools as the system’s “S.T.A.T. Lighthouse Schools.”

The young superintendent, who was 30 when he took the job in Baltimore County, would also start his paid consulting work with ERDI’s clients in 2015 and 2016, according to two ERDI documents which list ERDI advisory members.

But years prior, at that July ERDI 2011 event, Vander Ark presented his plan for school systems when he gave his talk he called “Designing Digital Districts.”

He instructed the education leaders that, starting that upcoming 2011-2012 school year, it was time to get started with their school districts’ digital and virtual learning programs.

“Online assessment is coming in the next three years to most states and it’s a great opportunity to put a stake in the ground to build a three or four phase plan, starting next month,” he said.

Vander Ark — who was also Executive Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and, despite lacking prior teaching experience, also served as superintendent of Washington State’s Federal Way Public Schools – told the education leaders that they should “be launching in September (2011), a Blended 6-10 math program” and “have a team of teachers work with two to three to 400 students” virtually and online.

“You ought to be piloting special services online.  Speech therapies have had big developments in the last year and can deliver better and cheaper and faster speech therapy online,” he said.

Vander Ark, who mentioned the cost savings of using technology in place of teachers several times during his presentation, also said he started the first kindergarten to 12th grade online school in the country, but that “this stuff has not made enough of a difference as it should.”

Nonetheless, the Ed-Tech mogul told the audience of education leaders that the reason the 2011 push was different was because, in addition to providing students with a computer-based environment in order to “improve learning,” changing staffing was also now seen as imperative.

Vander Ark told the audience of education leaders that the reduction in teachers would “improve productivity.”

“It means a different staffing model which costs less and works better,” he said. “It means a tough set of conversations…”

——–

Mr. Vander Ark and executives at ERDI were not immediately available for comment.  To watch Mr. Vander Ark’s full presentation and the other presentations given at the 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference, click here.  (Link supported by Google Chrome). For the conference agenda, click here.

Clarification:  An earlier version of this story credited The Baltimore Sun’s Jan. 25 article regarding the increased contracted spending authority for DreamBox and Curriculum Associates after former Superintendent Dance met with the vendors at an ERDI conference five months before.  It was actually The New York Times that first broke that part of the story in its November 3rd article called How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom.

BCPS Tech Contracts Audit Update

Baltimore Sun, December 16:  White expands the audit of school board contracts

Baltimore Post, December 15:  Legislative Audit Sought for Baltimore County Schools’ Contracts (the need for an audit was noted in May ~ Is BCPS in Need of a Financial Audit?)

Baltimore Sun, December 6:  Audit of tech contracts in Baltimore County schools is sought

Towson Flyer, December 5:  Board of Ed members ask for BCPS contract audit

Op-Ed: More than $60 million in BCPS contracts linked to controversial private clients

Thanks to the Towson Flyer and journalist Joanne C. Simpson for continuing to shed light on BCPS and, in particular, its dealing with the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI).

November 11, 2017

“At the heart of a widening scandal enveloping Baltimore County Public Schools is a company that apparently brokers access to superintendents. And in the case of BCPS, a shadowy trail might have led to more than $62 million in mostly no-bid digital curricula and related school contracts.”

Read more here.

NYT, Sun Articles Lead to Call for State Audit

What a week it’s been in Baltimore County.*

On November 3rd, the front page of the New York Times carried the article “How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom” about how the ed-tech industry used its playbook on BCPS. The article talked about Dr. Dance’s and Ms. White’s connection to the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI).  From the article:

“Ms. White, the interim superintendent, has been involved with ERDI since 2013, according to Mr. Dickerson. He said Ms. White used vacation time to attend events, where she “provided guidance to education-related companies on goods, services and products that are in development to benefit student performance.”

Asked whether Ms. White had received ERDI payments, Mr. Dickerson said, “Participation in ERDI is done independently of the school system.” In an email, Ms. White said she found ERDI to be a “beneficial professional learning experience.” She didn’t respond to a question about ERDI compensation.

She added, “I do not believe there are any conflicts of interests” related to the district’s tech initiative.”

On November 5th, the local article “New York Times Probes Baltimore County School System Records” summed up other coverage (including a write-up by national education policy scholar Diane Ravitch) and offered details on Dr. Dance’s extensive speaking engagements.

On November 7th, Natasha Singer was interviewed by an Ohio NPR affiliate (starts at minute 14) about the article.  Ms. Singer talked again about ERDI and the ethical issues tied to it. A Stanford University ethicist called it a pay-to-play arrangement.

Then, on November 8th, the pace didn’t just pick up; it turned into a media frenzy.

*To catch up on how this chain of events started, read this piece about Dr. Dance’s travel and this op-ed about the Education Foundation and the ed-tech takeover of BCPS

On Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun revealed that while ERDI paid both Dr. Dance and Ms. White for consulting, Ms. White hadn’t disclosed this outside income.

On November 9th, Ms. White wrote the following to the community:

“Good Afternoon Team BCPS Family,

This message is to ensure that you hear from me directly about the recent article published in the newspaper.  The first thing I’d like to share is that I take great pride in being a person who strives to maintain high moral character every day.  Any suggestion otherwise, by the media or anyone else, is simply wrong and a bridge too far.  For those of you who know me, you know that I do not dwell in excuses.  If I am wrong, I will admit my mistakes.  No one is perfect, but I will not have my integrity questioned without directly addressing and disputing the accusations.  Facts matter and I would like to take a few moments to outline the facts, as I believe you deserve the full story.

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.  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.

Like many of you, throughout my career, I look for opportunities for professional development and to stay current on the ever-growing educational resources being introduced in classrooms in Baltimore County and across the country.  Early in my career, these classroom tools were textbooks and other written materials.  At that time, teachers and administrators engaged with textbook companies to provide insight on how they might best serve students’ needs during instruction.  Now, many times, these classroom resources come in the form of technology and digital curriculum, which can be used as supplements or alternatives to traditional paper resources.  It should not come as a surprise that engaging with companies (some of which may be technology based) is now one way to learn about these products and to provide input on what works and what does not work with and for children.

In some instances, I was paid as a consultant to review and provide feedback on ideas for instructional products.  The superintendent, my supervisor, recommended and approved my participation in these opportunities.  The honest mistake I made was not writing these consultants fees on school system financial disclosure forms.  When I completed these forms, I was under the impression that I was to only list companies with whom the school system had a contract or a pending contract.  I was mistaken.  I will amend them as allowed by policies.

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.  It is not who I am and it is not who you know me to be.  My message to each of you in the Superintendent’s Report during this week’s Board of Education meeting was to rise up and to speak out for our profession.  We deserve the same respect as anyone else.  As I said during the report, I am you, and I will always stand up for who and what we are.  We must accept no less.”

Ms. White’s statement absolutely mischaracterized ERDI.  ERDI doesn’t sell directly to school systems, but it does facilitate sales by selling ed-tech vendors private access to superintendents.

The Sun on November 9th responded with the editorial, “Baltimore County schools’ ethics gap.”

We hadn’t even gotten through the week. Then came the call for a state-level investigation and audit.  The Sun on November 9th reported that Sen. Jim Brochin “has called for an investigation and audit of the Baltimore County school system’s purchasing of digital devices and software after reports that administrators were working as paid consultants for a company that represents education technology firms.”

The NYT jumped back in at this point to offer this same update.

It’s getting messy, but at least people are starting to pay attention to STAT.

On November 10th, four members of the Baltimore County Board of Education (the four paying attention to STAT) reached out to the state for assistance:

“Four Baltimore County Board of Education members: Kathleen Causey, Roger Hayden, Julie Henn, and Ann Miller are seeking immediate action in response to multiple reports of possible ethics violations within Baltimore County Public Schools.

Wednesday morning, Causey, Hayden, Henn, and Miller sent an email to Board Chairman Ed Gilliss requesting an emergency administrative session to discuss Board action in response to major concerns raised by extensive media reports on the ethical issues surrounding BCPS relations with edtech vendors.  Board Chair Gilliss did not respond to this request.  While the full Board was included on the request, no other members responded.

The four members also wrote to the Maryland State Board of Education and State Superintendent, Dr. Karen Salmon requesting advisory assistance addressing these concerns.

“These are complex, system-wide issues that this Board needs help in understanding and tackling.  It’s our duty to make informed decisions that put the needs of children first,” Mr. Hayden explained.

Other elected officials have contacted the State Board expressing similar reaction to recent reports.

“We are thankful for the support of Governor Hogan, and other state and local elected officials, who recognize the seriousness of these concerns and who have asked for immediate action,” Mrs. Miller stated.

The State Board is scheduled to discuss these matters at a meeting on December 5.

In the meantime, the four members will continue to investigate in an effort to determine an appropriate course of action.

“We have a lot of questions that need to be answered. Even the appearance of impropriety is something we must take seriously and investigate fully.  That’s our job and we owe it to the public – especially our students – to act,” Mrs. Henn said.

The members have repeatedly called for greater transparency and accountability to improve Board / system relations and effectiveness.

“We need open and honest communications between the Board and the system for us to effectively address conflicts of interest  and wider issues that ultimately affect our students. Currently such an environment does not exist. It is our hope that can change,” Mrs. Causey concluded.

* This statement is made by the individuals listed above. The Chair of the Board is the official spokesperson for the Board of Education of Baltimore County.”

Here’s the actual request:  State Board Request 110917

On November 10th, the Sun reported that, in response to the above request, the BOE would hold an emergency session on Monday to discuss possible ethics code violations.

The TeamBCPS spin continued on November 10th, when it decided it would be a good time to recap its first quarter achievements, including some related to STAT/digital learning and, of all things, excellence in procurement (just when we’re hearing that no-bid contracts most likely resulted from ERDI consulting).

For the seventh consecutive year, Baltimore County Public Schools earned the prestigious Annual Achievement of Excellence in Procurement® (AEP) Award from the National Procurement Institute, Inc.

To top it all off, on November 10th, a member of the Education Foundation said in a Sun op-ed that things were getting too political, calling the NYT article a “hit piece” and the Sun article “click bait.”  According to the op-ed, BCPS is a model school system and the multi-million-dollar STAT initiative is an incredible investment in our children’s future.

The author also said his “charity” should be applauded for organizing fundraisers to support grants and scholarships.  You can read about this fundraiser here.  The truth is that the op-ed’s author sits on the Education Foundation board with representatives of major ed-tech vendors/BCPS contract holders (Microsoft, Pearson, Discovery Education) whose products are central to STAT. These companies are sponsors of the major annual fundraiser for the Foundation, the State of the Schools event, the proceeds of which, beyond grants and scholarships, also support STAT.  In fact, according to the Foundation’s website, their GOALS are:

Provide support and assist (sic) to S.T.A.T. (Students and Teacher Accessing Tomorrow) where all students have the access to curriculum through technology so learning is available anytime and anywhere.

Provide scholarships opportunities to BCPS students to attend post-secondary education and obtain the knowledge and skills needed to be globally competitive.

Provide schools the opportunity to apply for school-based grants that address one of the 21st Century themes.

So, supporting STAT is actually the Foundation’s major goal.

No – no conflicts of interest at all.