At its Tuesday work session, the officially began the search for its next superintendent.
The board approved a $60,000 contract with Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to launch a nationwide search to replace outgoing Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston,
The firm is no stranger to Baltimore County, having led the search that brought Hairston to the system in 2000.
The contract was awarded without a bidding process, as state law allows the school system to use contracts awarded by other jurisdictions as long as standard public bidding procedures were followed on the original contract.
"I am really pleased to say that they came highly recommended," said Valerie Roddy, the board's vice president, who added that other systems that used the firm reported they were pleased with its public engagement and the pool of candidates they received.
The money to fund the search was drawn from other parts of the school system's administrative budget.
Purchases under fire
The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing the fallout from a recent Baltimore Sun article, which reported the school system spent millions on outdated books.
Sonja Karwacki, executive director of liberal arts for the school system, told the board that mistakes were made while some school system officials were out of town or on vacation and teachers began work reviewing the system's language arts standards in 2009. According to the Sun, 177 teachers and staffers were paid a total of $577,000 to work on the new guidelines, despite state warnings that new standards were coming from the state.
"A simple revision of curriculum developed into a full rewrite of curriculum and things continued to go downhill from there," Karwacki said.
For the new curricula, the county spent thousands on new novels, including A Tale of Two Cities, The Glass Menagerie and Mrs. Dalloway. Most of those novels are being used in classrooms, though administrators told the board that they are working with a publisher to exchange hundreds of extra copies of Mrs. Dalloway, the Virginia Woolf classic.
However, the updated version of the 27-year-old grammar textbook at the center of the textbook dispute is usable, according to school officials. Copies of that book, which had been held back due to a publisher error, are now being distributed to schools.
"Teachers didn't have sufficient resources at the secondary level to teach grammar, to teach writing," Karwacki said.
Karwacki told the board that in 2009 she received temporary signing authority from Barbara Dezmon, the then-assistant superintendent for equity and assurances, while Dezmon was out dealing with medical issues. Dezmon has since retired.
Dezmon attended the meeting and at one point stood to speak to the board, saying that the grammar book was "not new curriculum."
Asked why the assistant superintendent for equity and assurances was dealing with curriculum, Hairston told the board that he assigned her those duties.
After the meeting, Dezmon told Patch she felt scapegoated, and that the changes she intended to implement were unifying standards on what books students would read.
"If you have this curriculum, and you have these books that will fit into it, then why don't you fit in Catcher in the Rye?" she said.
When the teachers charged with revising the curriculum rewrote the curriculum, Dezmon said they selected books she would not have advised, like Mrs. Dalloway, to go with it.
Karwacki "assumed that everything was all right, she didn't look at the purchase, and she had no way of knowing they ordered what they were going to order," Dezmon said. "You had some people who were supposed to be running it and what happened was it all came loose."
Roger Plunkett, the system's chief of curriculum and instruction, told the board that he will authorize any future textbook purchases. Plunkett was not with the system in 2010 when the purchases took place.