County Council to launch audit of school facilities department Government concerned by procurement practices

June 12, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

The Baltimore County school system's facilities department, criticized in an internal audit that detailed illegal and improper fTC bidding practices, will undergo a second review -- this time by county government.

The County Council is expected to begin an audit next week examining the effectiveness of the $40 million-a-year department, its procurement and bidding practices and the feasibility of switching control of the department to county government. The council is scheduled to vote on the measure Monday.

Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione had asked for an independent audit to investigate the department's problems more thoroughly. The internal audit, released last month, is being reviewed by the county attorney, who will decide whether violations are serious enough to warrant a probe by prosecutors.

"Obviously, with all the problems and the fact that the superintendent has asked for an outside audit, the council has expressed interest in having this office conduct the audit," said county auditor Brian J. Rowe.

Meanwhile, as new facilities Director Gene L. Neff pieces together a department battered by reports chronicling mismanagement, by an air-quality crisis that closed Deer Park Elementary and by the firing of three maintenance officials, a key administrator resigned Monday to take a job in Florida.

Maintenance manager Dennis Beran, second in command to former Executive Director Faith Hermann, is leaving in two weeks to take a position as a facilities manager in a school system on Florida's west coast, Neff said.

Beran, who has worked for the school system for three years -- and who supervised parts of the Deer Park renovation -- said the move had nothing to do with the turmoil in facilities. His family had planned the move for some time, and decided that they'd move back to Florida -- where he lived for 14 years -- when his son graduated from high school this year.

"I don't like winter," he said. "I'm a tennis player. When I lived in Florida, I played tennis five times a week."

But he said the school system's problems made the decision to leave a bit easier.

"Dennis really knew his stuff," Neff said. "I am sorry to lose him."

Beran's departure, along with that of 18 other employees scheduled to lose their jobs June 30 because of cost-cutting layoffs or forced retirements, will drain much of the department's technical expertise. Beran is a mechanical engineer by training; the 18 employees losing their jobs include architects, engineers, roofing inspectors and construction-project managers.

The reduction, part of a systemwide reorganization that Marchione promised would eliminate 34 administrative positions, has sparked criticism that people -- not jobs -- were targeted, for political reasons. Marchione has said that those allegations are under review.

But the layoff plan is raising another concern: that without skilled staff to handle jobs, schools will spend more money on contractors than they would in paying salaries.

"I've always been concerned about who would take over these duties," said school board building committee chairman Dunbar Brooks. "It's unclear to me how they will get done."

Neff said he couldn't say whether the layoffs would save money in the long term given the cost of outside contracting.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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