Proposal to let panel conduct school audits debated

February 18, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- A House of Delegates Committee yesterday raised concerns about a bill that would give the Carroll County commissioners authority to conduct a performance audit of school management.

Del. Theodore Levin, D-Baltimore, said the measure could place the commissioners "right smack dab in the middle of educational policy," allowing them oversight of contracts and school programs.

Other members of the Ways and Means Committee expressed concerns that the commissioners would be overstepping their authority.

The bill, introduced by Del. Richard Matthews at the commissioners' request, would give them the authority to audit school management -- something the commissioners maintain they cannot do now.

Yesterday, Mr. Matthews submitted amendments -- sought by the Carroll school board -- that would establish procedures in selecting auditors and guidelines for conducting a performance audit. The amendments also would establish a schedule for an audit's completion.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge objected to the amendments, saying that they defeat the purpose of the bill. "We'd be spending dollars for virtually nothing," she said.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he did not object to them.

Ways and Means Committee members raised various concerns during a 45-minute hearing on the bill, including the need for such legislation and just what the commissioners were seeking.

Committee Chairman Tyras S. Athey, D-Anne Arundel, questioned whether the bill would usurp the school board's authority. Others, responding to the commissioners' concerns about holding the school board accountable for its spending, said the public could hold the board accountable at election time.

Mr. Levin asked the commissioners to be more specific on what they were seeking in a performance audit.

Mr. Lippy said the audit would cover such things as administration, purchasing and the superintendent's contract. He said the commissioners believe the school system spend money more efficiently.

"When we're talking about tax dollars, we're talking about the tax dollars of the people," Mrs. Gouge said.

She told the Committee it was important for the commissioners to treat the school board like any other agency that receives Carroll dollars. About 53 percent of the county's budget is earmarked for the school system, the commissioners said.

Margaret-Ann F. Howie, director of legal and legislative services for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, opposed the bill.

"We don't know what kind of animal this bill is," she said.

She said the commissioners' recent agreement with the Carroll school board to conduct a performance audit makes the legislation unnecessary. The two sides -- after years of contention -- agreed late last year to a performance audit and are working out details of it.

There were fewer questions on another education bill sought by the Carroll delegation that would change school board terms from six years to four, beginning with the terms that expire in 1994.

Mr. Matthews said Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, the bill's sponsor, seeks to put school board terms in line with those of other elected officials. He has said four-year terms make school board members more accountable to the public.

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