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Legislator Targets Tech Perks in Baltimore County District

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Ryan Imbriale, an administrator in Baltimore County Public Schools, with a class using laptops last year at Mays Chapel Elementary School in Timonium, Md. Credit Matt Roth for The New York Times

Baltimore County Public Schools has pursued one of most ambitious classroom technology makeovers in the United States. Now, some of its relationships with technology vendors are coming under intensified scrutiny.

A Maryland state legislator said Thursday that the state needed to investigate whether industry perks played a role in the awarding of the district’s technology contracts. The lawmaker, Senator James Brochin, called on the Maryland State Board of Education to conduct an audit of the contracts.

In 2014, the district committed $ 205 million for laptops for students and staff, and millions more since for math and language software. The audit would cover the device contract, which was awarded to a vendor whose laptop came in third place in the district’s hardware evaluations.

Last week, an article in The New York Times examined Baltimore County, the nation’s 25th-largest public school district, as a case study in how tech companies court and cultivate school leaders. The Baltimore Sun has recently written about the former district superintendent’s travels to out-of-state events.

The Times found that tech vendors or industry-funded groups paid for meals and rooms at fancy hotels for school leaders, as well as travel to conferences to promote the district’s tech initiative. And in February, the district’s former superintendent participated in confidential meetings with school tech vendors — companies whose contracts were later increased.

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A Maryland legislator has called for a state audit of Baltimore County Public Schools, the 25th-largest public school system in the United States, in connection with the district’s technology initiative.

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“Evidence offered in the recent articles indicates digital education companies having unrestricted access to key decision makers in Baltimore County Public Schools and, in turn, the awarding of contracts to those companies,” Senator Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in a letter sent to state officials. “This has created the illusion of impropriety, thereby eroding public trust.”

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