Baltimore County School Board Members Accused of Harassment, Intimidation
Two high-ranking officials in the Baltimore County school system have filed complaints against members of the school board, alleging bullying, intimidation, and a hostile work environment.
According to a document obtained by WYPR, Russell Brown, who is a member of interim School Superintendent Verletta White’s cabinet, has filed a formal complaint with the school board claiming harassment and intimidation. Brown is the chief accountability officer for the school system.
In the document, Brown lays out his case that he was targeted by certain board members. He says he was scrutinized in a just-completed external audit, when others holding positions comparable to his were not.
Brown also says a twitter post by board member Lily Rowe implied he had engaged in illegal conduct by supporting a particular procurement contract.
So as a lawyer you might wonder how it is a friend of yours, who loves it when you pick on Julie recommended a piggyback contract with a totally different scope? You know that violates state law right? pic.twitter.com/Eo4Uac6qaZ— Lily Rowe (@LilyRoweBaltCo) April 4, 2019
He also says a verbal confrontation with board vice chair Julie Henn left him shaken and fearing for his job.
Brown writes he believes this is happening in part because of his support of White, who is vying to be the permanent school superintendent. Two of the board members Brown specifically calls out, Chairwoman Kathleen Causey and Henn, have opposed White getting the job permanently.
Brown declined to be interviewed for this story.
Meantime, according to other documents obtained by WYPR, an independent investigation into an alleged hostile work environment and intimidation is under way on behalf of Andrea Barr, the school system’s chief auditor.
This led to the cancellation of the school board’s April 16 Audit Committee meeting, in which Barr serves as staff liaison. In an email, Margaret Ann Howie, the school system’s lawyer, recommended canceling that meeting “in order to forestall any additional claims.”
Howie warned audit committee members about contacting Barr or her office, warning that quote, “Any interactions with the office should be with the awareness that the investigation is ongoing.”
Causey and Henn serve on the Audit Committee, along with fellow board members Russ Kuehn and Lisa Mack.
Barr did not return a call requesting comment.
In a written statement, Chairwoman Causey said the school board does not disclose information regarding actual or alleged confidential, personnel matters in order to protect everyone involved.
Causey, saying she is the sole spokesperson for the board, said she would have no comment.
Causey added “I believe anyone interested in due process will have no comment.”
WYPR reached out to board members Henn and Rowe but did not hear back.
Tom DeHart, the executive director of CASE, the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, which represents county school principals and supervisors, said he knows nothing about the complaints but is not surprised.
DeHart said some board members, particularly board leadership, show their level of distrust for school officials by the inquisition-type questions they ask at board meetings. DeHart said that has a negative impact on his union members.
DeHart said, “When they see that level of distrust and questioning and innuendo coming from board leadership it has a collective effect I think and a demoralizing effect.”
DeHart and others believe this mistrust goes back to when former school superintendent Dallas Dance was in office. Dance resigned in 2017, and was later convicted of perjury for lying about money he received for outside consulting work.
Abby Beytin, the president of TABCO, The Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she has no knowledge of the complaints filed against school board members. But Beytin said civility matters, particularly for those who are setting an example for children.
“Anything that undermines that has really terrible implications for our students, for our local governments for everything, and for society as a whole,” Beytin said.
All this comes as the school board looks for a permanent replacement for Dance. The deadline to apply for the job of school superintendent was Monday.