Financial disclosure statements were destroyed, an accounting file room was disassembled by high-level employees over a weekend, records continued to be destroyed during a ban which strictly prohibited or limited it, no one can answer whether lower-level employees can sign off on the purported scanning and then destruction of high-level system documents, and there was a significant uptick in document, book and records shredding over the last two years.
All of this happened during a time financial records were under scrutiny.
After months of requesting information and clarity on the document shredding – on Wednesday – Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) released a statement.
That statement, however, appears to ignore the fact that documents were destroyed during a time when a full ban on all document destruction was in effect – September of 2018 – while interim Superintendent Verletta White was in charge.
The statement also fails to address the rationale provided by the school system when the destruction of documents was first reported over a year ago.
So far, school system administrators are sticking to their story: Nearly 20 years’ worth of financial disclosure statements were destroyed to make room for one years’ worth of incoming documents. All while a reporter was actively requesting the public records and while a looming financial audit requiring those very documents – and others – was being deliberated. This occurred in April and August of 2018. Again, while interim Superintendent Verletta White was in charge.
But for months, BCPS has remained virtually silent amid questions about the curious set of peculiarities that occurred in 2018 and 2019. Until now.
And what officials have to say after months of not answering questions is simply that media reports are inaccurate.
Here’s the breakdown:
- On January 23, 2018 former Superintendent Dallas Dance was indicted for providing misleading information on his financial disclosure statements.
- On February 14, 2018, a now-Gunpowder Gazette reporter began requesting – over a six-month period – the same records for numerous employees. The same day, document metadata shows that a school system law office employee created the document to log the destruction of financial disclosure statements, destruction which the office said occurred on April 27, 2018 and August 1, 2018.
- The same month, February 2018, the law office says it began collecting the financial disclosure statements for destruction, an email record shows.
- In May 2018, the Baltimore County school board contracted with an audit firm to conduct a procurement audit.
- On August 9, 2018, the reporter found that the financial forms had been destroyed while she had been actively requesting them. The news prompted the school board to institute a moratorium on August 21, 2018 on all record destruction pursuant to an active procurement audit.
- On September 3 and 25, 2018, during the strict record destruction ban, over 50,000 lbs. of documents, books and other paper records were shredded, according to official shred certificates which certify all of the system’s large-scale shredding.
- On the evening of September 25, 2018, the school board modified its directive to apply only to executive directors and above, pursuant to the active audit. All employees would be notified of the change the following day.
- In the fall of 2018, a room holding years’ worth of financial records was disassembled over a weekend by two high-level employees. A lower-level (non-executive director) would sign off on the destruction of records said to be vendor invoices which were destroyed in November and December 2018, which officials say were “scanned and retained” before being destroyed. But no required log which would detail all that was destroyed would be provided, despite public record requests.
- April 2019, the first phase of what was designed to be a multi-phased procurement audit was completed. Auditors noted that some financial disclosure statements they requested were unavailable for review because they had been destroyed.
- In 2018 and 2019, over 400 tons of documents, books and other paper shred materials were destroyed, compared to fewer than 175 tons destroyed during the previous three years, combined.
- Between August 2018 and December 2019, over 50 public records requests were sent by a reporter to the school system surrounding the shredding of system documents. Of the requests for records, 15 requests did not produce responsive records, while five would be denied.
Over one dozen requests for comment and clarification about the records obtained through public information requests, as well as questions surrounding the document destruction, were ignored by various departments at the school system.
Baltimore County Public Schools’ belated response to requests for comment and clarification can be found, in full, below. Superintendent Darryl L. Williams, who was hired in July 2019, was not with the school system during the time most of the shredding occurred.
Statement from Dr. Darryl L. Williams, Superintendent, Baltimore County Public Schools regarding records retention
TOWSON, MD – Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darryl L. Williams has issued the following statement in response to questions about records retention:
There have been allegations in recent news reports concerning Baltimore County Public Schools’ records retention practices and certain activities. I wasn’t here in 2018; however, this is what I have found so far:
It has been alleged that the school system violated the Board’s ban on records destruction. The facts don’t support this conclusion. The Board of Education instituted a ban on records destruction on September 25, 2018, and it applied to employees at the position of executive director and above. This ban did not apply to the documents that were shred in November and December of 2018.
It has been alleged that the Office of Accounting destroyed thousands of pounds of material. The facts don’t support this conclusion.
On November 2, 2018, the Office of Accounting sent seven (7) boxes to Logistics for shredding. On November 12, 2018, 26,000 pounds of material was shred, as confirmed by our vendor. The 7 boxes from the Office of Accounting did not total 26,000 pounds but clearly included other material. On December 7, 2018, 3 boxes were sent to Logistics for shredding. On December 12, 2018, these three boxes –and other material—were certified as having been shred. It is obvious that these three boxes did not weigh 26,300 pounds. There were 25 pallets of material that were shred, which included text books; these documents confirming the weight of material were provided as part of a Maryland Public Information Act request.
It has been alleged that the documents that were disposed of in November and December prevented the board’s auditors from doing their work. The facts don’t support this conclusion. The Office of Accounting has confirmed that all documents that were sent to the Office of Logistics for disposition have been retained.
Records retention schedules are designed to ensure the school system records are retained for as long as they are needed for administrative, legal, fiscal, or audit purposes, and that they are properly disposed of once their value to the office and the school system has passed. Adherence to the schedule is important for the efficient and proper functioning of BCPS.
In spite of these inquiries, we will continue to focus on improving outcomes for students and providing a conducive learning and working environment for all.