Nearly a year after the state attorney general barred the County Commissioners from seeking an independent audit of school management, the board may field a request from the schools to finance a similar audit.
The county school administration is expected to recommend next month that the Board of Education hire the Baltimore firm of Arthur Anderson & Co. to conduct a management audit of the finance and personnel departments and aspects of data processing.
But because the board did not budget money for the proposed audit in its current $100 million operating budget, board members are likely to ask the commissioners to pay the $44,800 cost.
"The former commissioners thought it was important that the school system be accountable," said board member Cheryl A. McFalls. "I believe the new commissioners will understand how important it is."
If sought, however, the request will come at a time when the county faces a revenue shortfall and has implemented a hiring freeze and other measures to curb spending.
Although Commissioner President Donald I. Dell, one of two new members on the board, would like to see an independent management audit, he said he didn't know whether money would be available.
The request would mark an ironic twist in what was once a lengthy turf battle between the commissioners and the school board over who should audit the school management.
The stalemate ended in February when state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., in a nine-page opinion, concluded state law "limits the county to an audit of the board's financial transactions and accounts."
Curran said the proposed audit "appears to cover areas in which the action would exceed the county's powers or conflict with the board's express powers."
"We took his advice and that was it," said ex-Commissioner President John L. Armacost.
Armacost and Commissioner Julia W. Gouge first proposed hiring an outside consultant for $30,000 to review school spending habits and management practices in 1989.
School board members, however, adamantly opposed a county-controlled performance audit and accused the commissioners of trying to usurp their role in managing the public school system.
After the attorney general's opinion was released, Superintendent R.
Edward Shilling pledged to press ahead with a performance audit anyway to improve efficiency.
Plans for a more extensive performance review have since been scaled down, and the administration has delayed proceeding because school management has been busy with contract negotiations and next year's budget.