Another Questionable No-bid Contract

“Former Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent S. Dallas Dance accepted payment from a firm that also later did business with the district for a job the school system did not competitively bid, and which appears to run afoul of district procurement policies.  The vendor payment is one of two known incidents that occurred during Dance’s employment with the school system from 2012 -2017.

Records show that Dance worked as a consultant for the American Institutes for Research in 2015 and was paid $1,500 for the job.  Then, in the spring of 2017, Baltimore County’s education board approved a no-bid $750,000 contract, piggybacking on an unrelated agreement Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had with the vendor.  In the first instance, Dance accepted payments from education consulting company, SUPES Academy, for consultant work he did in 2013.”

Read more in this February 8th article from the Baltimore Post:  Another Questionable No-bid Contract in Dance’s Wake

And this related article — “Baltimore County schools awarded contract to group that had paid Dallas Dance” — from the February 8th Baltimore Sun.

“The Baltimore County school system last year awarded two contracts worth $1.5 million to a research organization that had previously paid former superintendent Dallas Dance as a consultant, records show. Dance did not disclose to the county that he had worked for the research organization, American Institutes for Research, as is required. His $1,500 payment by the company for consulting work in 2015 is detailed in last month’s indictment of Dance by a Baltimore County grand jury.”

Read more here.


We Trusted . . .

A guest Op-Ed by Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong

We trusted that the Baltimore County Board of Education would select a qualified superintendent. Instead, a special dispensation had to be given to allow Dallas Dance to serve as superintendent because he didn’t meet the minimum standards, including enough time in the classroom.

We trusted that the superintendent would follow the Maryland State Department of Education’s mission whose overarching strategic plan includes data-informed decisions and high quality resources. Instead, the superintendent gambled our children’s future on STAT Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), a for-profit digital takeover of education fueled mostly by untried, untested, unproven, ed-tech programs.

We trusted the superintendent’s plan to pilot STAT in select “Lighthouse Schools,”for a time sufficient to evaluate efficacy and work out problems. Instead, STAT was rolled out quickly, despite no proven positive learning outcomes. We trusted that the superintendent would follow BCPS Rule 6002, Evaluation and Selection of Instructional Materials, which requires that selected materials be free of questions or activities that invade personal or family privacy by requiring students to reveal private, personal, or family information.  Instead, computer-based learning companies have been allowed to collect, store, and utilize student information without parental consent.

We trusted that BCPS would implement the recommendation to amend its existing policies to require competitive procurement methods for all contracts for services. Instead,  BCPS, through Rule 6002 which fosters such high-dollar no-bid contracts, continues to negotiate such contracts for unproven ed-tech programs and applications. We trusted that the Board of Education, County Council and County Executive would exercise fiduciary and efficacy oversight. Instead, approval for the funding of such sole-source contracts, and questionable curricular materials were freely given.

We trusted that the health and safety of our children would be of paramount importance. Instead, students are exposed to an unregulated amount of screen time in school with additional required for homework.  We trusted that schools would be maintained and upgraded regularly. Instead, Baltimore County is home to the second oldest inventory of schools in the state, buildings in disrepair, overcrowded, outdated, and even unsafe. We trusted that state and county tax dollars would be spent wisely. Instead, more than enough money to rebuild two new high schools is being spent on digitizing education.

And now that the curtain has been drawn back exposing an apparent web of deceit,  BCPS is asking us to trust it to conduct an audit, an audit that it has designed, an audit that is limited in scope – not the six years under the former superintendent, an audit that mostly cherry picks contracts that were bid out rather than focusing on the no-bid variety. This is tantamount to a fox auditing a hen house. No! Enough is enough… We need, nay, we deserve a full-fledged independent audit. So the little trust that we still have is now turning to our state representatives serving in the Office of Legislative Audits to stand up for the children of Baltimore County and conduct a Special Review Audit spanning Dallas Dance’s tenure with the county school district.

You have the power, and we have the vote.

Related:  Dance’s breach of trust

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

Worries intensify about student laptops as Baltimore County prepares to expand use of devices

Baltimore Sun Letter to the Editor, December 5:

Baltimore County should be wary of education tech

Baltimore Sun and Towson Flyer, December 4:

Worries intensify about student laptops as Baltimore County prepares to expand use of devices

Concerns grow as BCPS prepares to expand use of tech devices in schools

The stream of reporting about our digital initiative was steady throughout November and December.  Much of it centered on the call for an audit based on conflicts of interest. One article focused on teachers being assaulted. Any connection between funding STAT and the lack of funding for support staff or creating smaller classes?

Baltimore Sun, November 15:

Ethics complaint filed against Baltimore County school superintendent Verletta White

Baltimore Sun, November 21:

Baltimore County teachers protest discipline problems in schools

Baltimore Sun, November 24:

Baltimore County schools chief Verletta White agrees to new travel, work restrictions

Baltimore Sun, November 25:

When disclosing 2016 consulting work, Dallas Dance used company alias rather than firm’s name

Baltimore Post, November 25:

Vendor Website Records Suggest Possible “Pay for Play” in Baltimore County Schools

Baltimore Sun, Letter to the Editor, December 4:

Are Baltimore County Schools asleep at the wheel?

Baltimore Sun, December 5:

Baltimore County parents, school board members ask state for audit of tech contracts

WBAL TV, December 5:

State audit called for by some against Baltimore County school district

Towson Flyer, December 5:

Board of Ed members ask for BCPS contract audit

Baltimore Sun, Letter to the Editor, December 6:

Balto. County should be wary of education tech

Baltimore Post, December 6:

Baltimore County Schools on State Board’s “Radar”

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.

Maryland State Prosecutor Investigates Former Superintendent Dance: A few more details . . . updated 10.26

State prosecutors are investigating former Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, according to the Baltimore Sun and other news agencies. “The Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation . . .  issuing a subpoena for school system records.”

Yet the former superintendent’s troubles go much farther. 

Among issues apparently under review by the state: Dance’s “involvement with SUPES Academy,” which did business with BCPS and for which Dance consulted at the time. “In 2014, school system ethics officials ruled that Dance had violated ethics rules by taking a part time job with SUPES after the company got an $875,000 contract with the school system.”  For other reporting on SUPES and Dance, read also this in-depth story chronicling the former superintendent’s history with SUPES, its leaders, and an undisclosed affiliate company Synesi, according to Baltimore Post investigative reporter Ann Costantino.

Dance offered no comment to news reports of a current state prosecutor investigation, but this recent video by the resigned superintendent speaks volumes.

Other details: the former county schools’ chief has been embroiled in yet another contract controversy through his newly formed consulting company, The DDance Group (see below), which apparently contracted with Richmond Public Schools for advising services, including “leadership coaching,” without the knowledge of school board members there. See also a contract doc, RPS board member comments, and post by local news blog RVAdirt. Soon after leaving Baltimore County this summer, Dance was hired as an RPS consultant at $12,500 per month, and was cut checks for $25,000 before questions were raised about the propriety of the consulting contract, according to a Sept. 25 CBS6 news report.

There are some questions about the nature of Dance’s superintendent leadership time here, as his widespread travel took him across the country and elsewhere, likely more than 100 days on the job, records show. See this story previously reported on Dance’s travel and expenditures. And an ongoing edtech travel culture among BCPS administrators. (UPDATE: And a follow-up story on superintendent travel by the Sun, after requests from other news agencies.)

Four months after Dance’s departure, the Sun is also acknowledging the high costs of his signature initiative. As Dance traveled to edtech conferences “the county school system was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on technology — not just laptops, but printers, educational software and electronic identification cards for all students and staff.” To get a look at the high-dollar contracts approved here in Baltimore County–and $300 million-plus in costs related to Dance’s laptop-per-student “digital ecosystem”– see this previous post.  Most of the superintendent’s travel promoted this program; he met with BCPS vendors at various events. Related no-bid contracts, including $10 million for Discovery Education‘s products, are still in place.

When the controversy began . . . 

Back in 2013, an investigative news story on SUPES, which first revealed Dance’s consulting job, was published by The Chicago Reporter and then followed by the Sun. Dance dropped the outside job, but stayed on at BCPS.

Former chief of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a longtime mentor for Dance, was among those embroiled in the SUPES scandal and was among those convicted this year for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Dance, who promised not to consult again after the ethics finding on SUPES (as his contract also later stipulated), has been cited for other ethics violations and criticized for various “appearances of conflict of interest,” as well as costly taxpayer-funded travel to numerous edtech conferences and events, among other issues. (There are also thousands in BCPS-paid costs related to trips at swanky hotels and resorts in Chicago and Las Vegas during the SUPES/Synesi era, though an employee name is not listed, according to a BCPS database noted here). Dance’s Maryland-registered limited liability corporation Deliberate Excellence Consulting LLC, formed in August 2012 (one month after his hiring by BCPS), was listed as Active and “Not In Good Standing” a few months ago, as also reported in this bloga status which remains.

Many related concerns–including promotional videos Dance did for school system vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard–were first brought up in this op-ed as far back as April 2016.

According to amended financial disclosure forms filed “under penalty of perjury” after an ethics finding, Dance reported no personal income from the Deliberate Excellence, LLC, which according to charter records was formed “to consult and partner with school systems, businesses and organizations around best practices to obtain maximum organizational outcomes.”

Dance unexpectedly announced his resignation in April, partly saying he wanted to spend more time with family. Meanwhile, a few of his post-BCPS consulting positions are no longer listed on those firms’ sites nor on Dance’s LinkedIn profile page, including “Partner, Strategos Group,” and a full-time senior vice president position he announced with MGT Consulting Group when he left the superintendent position on June 30.

On LinkedIn, Dance now only features his own Richmond Va.-based consulting company The DDance Group, Inc. and his role as founder, president and CEO. The DDance Group’s website was launched recently and can be found here. Dance’s overall LinkedIn profile describes him thus: “Father, Leader, Educator, Author & Innovator Reasonably impatient about improving educational outcomes for ALL children.”

Dance’s private consulting group lists numerous testimonials apparently linked partly to his $287,000 annual taxpayer-paid BCPS role as super, as well as conferences and events at which he spoke during his tenure here. The site also showcases photos of Baltimore County Public School children (posted for corporate advertising purposes . . . is that with their permission or that of their parents?).

At least one DDance Group photo prominently features Hewlett-Packard’s HP EliteBook Revolve 810 G2, the centerpiece of Dance’s controversial signature laptop-per-student program, Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT). The laptop/tablet hybrids have been leased under an unheard-of $205 million single contract spending authority awarded to Daly Computers, Inc. STAT has morphed into a $300-million-plus six-year “digital conversion” (including ongoing digital curricula, infrastructure upgrades, continual software license fees, and professional development—public school district costs that would rise substantially). Daly Computers, then a Hewlett-Packard affiliate, has been a top donor to the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools. 

So What is Going On Now . . . 

Despite Dance’s departure, STAT is still being pursued and expanded under current Interim Superintendent Verletta White, who pressed for a nearly $4 million expansion of just two software contracts, iReady and DreamBox Math, this year (see postscript below), despite questions by school board members about the programs’ high costs and lack of objective evidence of benefits. Via the software programs, elementary school children as young as 6 watch math or English language videos, and do gaming-style lessons, or play video games as “rewards” on the devices during the school day.

Among other topics, SUPES promoted edtech and “personalized” computer-based learning  in its SUPES superintendent training, including “virtual learning,” during the years Dance participated.  Messages offered superintendents from SUPES-related training in Chicago include: “We make a huge mistake by thinking that facts make a difference. Facts don’t build trust, perception does.” And, perhaps partly explaining why the high costs and actual results of digital initiatives (see postscript) have not been examined by regional media so far: SUPES and similar training programs have long advised school leaders that the “key is having the media report “news” from your point of view.” BCPS routinely refers to local news agencies as “media partners.”

As CEO of The DDance Group, Dance remains on the board of directors of ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, an edtech industry support group where Dance long held a board position as BCPS superintendent. ISTE also promotes Dance’s new biz contact info and, with language similar to his LLC charter, Dance’s bio features his “consulting management firm that partners with schools, districts, governing agencies and organizations to improve educational outcomes . . . ” He also remains listed as a Senior Fellow at the e-Republic* affiliated Center for Digital Education (CDE), roles reserved for “experienced and respected state and local government practitioners and scholars who have demonstrated records of success in support of public service.”

In the low-tech The DDance Group promotional video posted on Sept. 14, an unshaven Dance says he has 20 clients already and hopes to garner the help of others to solve “tough, tough, challenges:” “I have been very fortunate, very humbled, very blessed by what many would consider a pretty successful career, even though it is nowhere near over.”

— A guest post by Joanne C. Simpson, a university lecturer, BCPS stakeholder, and former staff writer at The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Johns Hopkins Magazine.


*As noted here in The Baltimore Post: The company e.Republic (which backs the Center for Digital Education) works with over 700 companies – from “Fortune 500s to startups” –  to help executives ‘power their public sector sales and marketing success.’ Among those listed: Intel, IBM, Blackboard, Microsoft, Aerohive, Apple, Samsung, Dell and Google.” Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and other companies are familiar entities at BCPS.

Also, among a litany of mostly no-bid digital curricula contracts recently implemented at the county’s public school district: the reading/English language software program iReady, which had a $1.2 million BCPS contract spending authority expanded in July to $3.2 million for fewer than two years more, as approved by the Board of Education and requested by interim superintendent White. 
iReady by Curriculum Associates: contract spending authority
DreamBox Math, meanwhile, jumped nearly $2 million more to $3.2 million for just three more years.
Such price tags total a whopping more than $6 million for two software programs alone in a cash-strapped school system with many pressing needs. Contract spending authorities approved by the Board of Education for such no-bid curricula or related contracts are now surpassing $80 million, just for the next several years, BCPS records show. Yet the school district cannot pay for enough social workers, with a BCPS ratio of only one worker to serve more than 1,000 students, when “the American School of Social Work recommends one social worker for every 250 students,” as this post also eloquently reveals. And this in a school district where nearly half of students live in poverty.
On a hot day in early September, in one of dozens of county schools without air conditioning due to “limited funding,” the temperatures inside classrooms were recorded as high as 114 degrees. One 16-year-old “felt crippled by a pounding headache. Her asthma started acting up. She put her head onto her desk instead of working on how to translate DNA to RNA” in her biology class. It was simply too hot:. “It was impossible to learn.”
Side note:
In the end, many would agree digital technology has a place as a modern tool of learning, yet where is the balance?  Analyses are required when children’s minds and futures are involved, especially for the young. Consider this objective 2017 National Education Policy Center report on “blended and virtual learning;” and a balanced recent Business Insider story on DreamBox, which also questions the “personalized-learning” computer-based approach, and points out just how many data points are collected on children50,000 per hour per student just by DreamBox. (Children have been required by BCPS to spend a certain amount of time on DreamBox.) Meanwhile, well-conducted research, that’s not funded by tech companies themselves, does not reveal statistically significant positive outcomes. Current software should not replace teachers, as promoters and investors claim it can. And minor tech tools should not be used as silver bullets. Overall, consider the widespread industry marketing campaigns and venture capitalist profit-margins behind it all. — JCS