Verletta White was in line to become the leader of the 25th-largest schools system in the United States. Now, she will be the superintendent of the 19th-largest — in Virginia.
White, 52, was introduced as superintendent of Roanoke City Public Schools during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
She comes to Roanoke after a long career in Baltimore County, Maryland, where she was interim superintendent for two years and was slated to become the permanent superintendent before an ethics violation derailed the promotion.
The Baltimore County Board of Education twice voted to name White permanent superintendent in 2017 and 2018, but Maryland state Superintendent Karen Salmon blocked the move because of an ethics complaint that had been raised against White due to some outside consulting work she had done.
An ethics panel determined in 2018 that White’s violation had been more of a technicality due to confusing income-disclosure documents.
However, because the previous Baltimore County superintendent, Dallas Dance, had been convicted of perjury for failing to disclose $147,000 that he had received from consulting work, White believed that her violation was looked at more harshly than it otherwise would have been.
“It was guilt by association for me,” White said during a Wednesday telephone interview. “There had been quite a bit of fallout from the former superintendent who had gotten into legal trouble himself. It really did cause complexities not only for the school system, but for me, as well. There were many naysayers who didn’t give me a chance because they found me guilty by association.”
The Roanoke School Board knew about White’s ethics violation when she was interviewed for the job, but considered it a small blemish on her long record in education. The board approved her hiring unanimously.
Roanoke School Board Chairman Mark Cathey said that White’s problems in Baltimore County were more political than ethical.
“Baltimore is known for hard-nosed politics,” Cathey said. “She had tremendous support from teachers and principals.”
A Baltimore County ethics panel determined that White violated two county policies when she failed to disclose income from the Education Research & Development Institute, a Chicago-based company that makes educational products and services for schools across the country. ERDI often pays school administrators consulting fees for input. White received about $12,000 in fees, mostly from ERDI, over a four-year period.
The ethics panel determined that the school system’s financial disclosure forms were unclear about whether the consulting fees needed to be reported, and called White’s failure to report the money received as a consultant as “a technical violation of the reporting requirements.” White amended disclosure forms and made the panel’s confidential findings public herself.
Because ERDI did not do business with Baltimore County schools, the ethics panel determined that White had no conflict of interest. The findings called for no punishment.
“There were two technical violations, but they were delivered in a ‘Yes, but …’ manner,” White said.
White said she implemented a financial disclosures training program for Baltimore County school personnel after meeting with the ethics panel.
“It was never my intention to hide or withhold information,” White said. “No one had ever received any financial training. That’s not an excuse. But I recommended financial training for the entire system. And in an unprecedented move, I released the [ethics complaint] report.”
She said she wanted Roanoke families to know about the ethics complaint before she started her new job.
“I want to establish trust with the community,” she said. “I want to be as honest and as open as I can. Families are trusting me with their children. I am an open book.”
White had support of a majority of the Baltimore County school board, as well as some Maryland state legislators, who suggested that Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan had pressured Salmon, the state superintendent, into rejecting White’s promotion.
Salmon denied that claim in an interview with a Baltimore television station in 2018. When White was given a different job with Baltimore County schools after a new superintendent was hired in 2019, Hogan took to Twitter and called White’s new position and salary “simply outrageous.”
Cathey said that White was candid about the violations when interviewed.
“She took it head on,” Cathey said. “She had 12 grand over four years of consulting income. She told us everything. She even gave us a copy of the investigation. I hate that it happened, but it’s no bad reflection on her at all. She was popular in Baltimore County.”
White, who starts her new job in Roanoke on July 1, signed a four-year contract that pays $217,000 annually. The contract also calls for a $10,000 annual annuity payment.
White will be the first African American woman to be Roanoke’s superintendent since Doris Ennis served as interim superintendent during the 2004-05 school year.
She succeeds Rita Bishop, who is retiring after 13 years as Roanoke superintendent. Under Bishop, who earned $208,746 in her final year, the district’s on-time graduation rate improved from under 60% when she took over to 90.1%.
White, a Baltimore native, oversaw similar improvements in Baltimore County.
“We’ve had steady gains in graduation rates,” White said. “We’ve closed the gap between black and white students, which is a huge feat in a very large, very diverse school system.”
She said Roanoke’s demographically diverse student population was a selling point for her to apply for the job.
“I was very, very selective where I looked,” White said. “My whole premise is that of service. When Roanoke’s job opened, I researched and read and did my homework. I thought I might be a good fit.”
White said that early intervention in the middle school years is key to making sure students stay in school.
“If a student is failing a class or two by the ninth grade, they’re more likely to drop out,” she said. “If they’ve been suspended by the ninth grade, it’s an early warning indicator.”
White has a bachelor’s degree in education from Towson University, a master’s degree in educational leadership from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and is completing a doctoral dissertation at Morgan State University. She is married to Sidney White, and the couple has two college-age daughters.
“Her competence and confidence was and is stellar,” said Edward Gilliss, chairman of the Baltimore County Board of Education, who had been one of White’s staunchest supporters. “She is truly a champion of public education.”
Cathey said that the board was impressed by White’s success in raising the graduation rate of Baltimore County schools as an administrator and interim superintendent.
“She’s very impressive,” Cathey said. “She’s got a lot of qualities and a lot of energy to build on the things that Rita did.”