Gary warns school officials on construction problems He'll move for control if no progress is made

January 04, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

County Executive John G. Gary has given school officials a year to straighten out the troubled school construction program or he will aggressively seek to take it over.

"The county executive said, 'I'm going to give you another year. Make the system work better.' If it doesn't get better, you will see a real concerted effort to bring it under the county," Robert Dvorak, the county's administrative officer, said yesterday.

The school system's construction funds come largely from county government.

Mr. Dvorak is a member of a committee of county government and school system officials that issued a 10-page report yesterday criticizing the school facilities construction office.

The committee recommended that the school system hire an outside consultant to evaluate the office.

The panel found that school principals sometimes have too much say over what gets built and that the school system allows itself to be "whipsawed by changing priorities generated by political considerations and/or public outcry."

To avoid that, the committee said the school construction office should lock in priorities for two years and not one year.

The committee also spent two months trying to hammer out an agreement under which some of the responsibility for school construction would move to county government.

While saying they have no evidence the county could do a better job, school officials did agree to look into overhauling the construction system and include the county in planning.

"I don't intend to let that report sit on a shelf," said Dr. Carol S. Parham, superintendent of schools. "The bottom line is that we have got to make changes in the process."

Donald Smith, administrator of the Association of Educational Leaders, the principals' union, disputed principals' influence on construction. They have no say about new schools, and their input on renovations and additions is limited, he said.

The school construction office has been troubled by problems that included failure to plan for a new ventilation system for the renovation and addition at Broadneck Senior High School, cost estimates on projects that have been several million dollars off and flawed designs for elementary schools.

In the report, the committee said the school system should include the county's land use, planners and inspections staff.

Dr. Parham told Mr. Dvorak that working with county agencies depended on their readiness to respond to the school system and that she wants a written commitment that they can be helpful.

In other business:

* The school system said it will move forward with plans for an alternative high school for students who otherwise would be expelled. A tentative schedule calls for finding a site by March and opening the facility in February of 1997. The alternative school would be the 18th such facility in the state, according to county educators.

* The board voted to hold hearings this spring on redistricting the Annapolis High School feeder system by fall. The plan has been agreed to, but the board had postponed implementing it while deciding whether to wait to include a reopened Adams Park Elementary School. But there is no funding to renovate the school.

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