Baltimore County Public Schools increased shredding in 2018 and 2019 – a dramatic increase compared to recent years – which occurred amid the first phase of a what was supposed to be a multi-phased procurement audit. But officials won’t say why or what precisely was destroyed.
A department that handles Baltimore County Public Schools’ (BCPS) general shredding for central office staff and schools went into high gear in 2018 and 2019 when it had over 885,000 lbs. of documents, books and other materials destroyed – more than two times the amount of what the school system had destroyed by its contracted shredding vendors for the prior three years, combined.
The shredding took place during and after the first phase of a high-profile May 2018 to April 2019 procurement audit which sought to look into the system’s 2012-2017 spending practices after former BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance was – in 2018 – indicted and later convicted for perjuring himself by providing misleading information on his financial disclosure forms.
Records, obtained by The Gunpowder Gazette through several Maryland Public Information Act requests, showed how and when the shredding occurred. But officials are unwilling to explain why or what precisely was destroyed.
Instead, according to some system employees, without any explanation, the district is simply saying that media reports are “inaccurate.” Period.
But according to Baltimore County schools’ own records called Certificates of Destruction – official signed and dated shred certificates – the exact dates and weights of shredded documents, books and other materials, show the spike in the school system’s shredding over the last two years.
Without any explanation, nor official list or log documenting what precisely was destroyed, nor explanation about what precipitated the notable rise in shredding, exactly what was destroyed remains unclear.
The official certificates used to certify record shredding only state that “loose,” “book/shred material,” “paper recycling,” “confidential paper,” and/or “documents” have been destroyed. Metal scraps and computer and electronic hardware were not counted in the totals.
The district also refuses to answer any questions about the record rate at which it chose to destroy system materials and why. The Gunpowder Gazette continues to ask for records and clarification. But the district will not explain.
Subsequent reports then surfaced by a now-Gunpowder Gazette reporter about the shredding of nearly 2,600 financial disclosure statements in April and August 2018 while school board members deliberated the scope and time frame of the audit.
The records were also destroyed while the reporter had been actively requesting them. Auditors also later noted they were unable to obtain some of the documents for review because they had been destroyed.
In response to learning that the financial records had been destroyed, in August 2018, the school board instituted a ban on all record destruction. “The board directs the interim superintendent and all BCPS personnel to immediately cease and desist in the routine or non-routine destruction of any and all school system documents and records until the conclusion of the external procurement audit AND until further direction by the board with regard to record retention.” The directive was approved by a majority of the school board on Aug 21, 2018.
Then-interim Superintendent Verletta White then instructed school staff on a modified board order on Sept. 26, 2018, to include a destruction ban on documents belonging to only executive directors and above.
But despite the limitation put on some department heads to retain their records, shredding did not decline, but actually increased. And as also reported last week, the school system also destroyed records during the one-month strict directive that prohibited all — as in all — document destruction. School system officials have not addressed whether employees violated the board order while under the strict destruction ban.
Although records indicate that document destruction did not show a slowdown, in October, the district sought to remove the destruction ban, altogether, which would allow all departments and employees to resume shredding since they have been prohibited from doing so since last year.
Several lawmakers asked the school board to keep the document destruction ban in place since the district is currently undergoing an early legislative audit by the state.
Superintendent Darryl L. Williams removed the item from the October meeting agenda which kept the ban in effect.
The Gunpowder Gazette partnered with WBFF-TV Project Baltimore on a series of stories regarding the document shredding.
During an interview with Gov. Larry Hogan with the station that aired last week, Hogan said, “If we don’t get to the bottom of the facts, then we are going to have to have someone from the outside come in and take a look at it, because it sounds like it’s totally unacceptable.”
In October, a whistleblower told the news station and The Gunpowder Gazette that, over a weekend last fall, two executive directors disassembled an entire Fiscal Services File room which contained years’ worth of accounting records.
According to the anonymous source, the records included employee reimbursement forms, travel logs and other accounting records used to ensure that the district was keeping within budget.
The source said that what prompted coming forward was the speed at which the room was disassembled, that it occurred during the audit and after the school board put a ban on record destruction. The source stated last week that the State’s Attorney Office has requested a meeting.
Questions posed to the Office of the State Prosecutors earlier this month did not receive a response by the time this story published.