Facilities managers want jobs back School officials made them scapegoats, they say

July 26, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Three former Baltimore County school facilities managers who were ousted in the wake of critical audits charge that they were made scapegoats by top school officials.

The managers, who have appealed their dismissal, say they were blamed unfairly for management and procurement problems outlined in the audits. They also say that they were abruptly thrown out of work, and that there was no budgetary reason to cut their jobs.

Former maintenance supervisor Robert Klein, former capital projects specialist William J. Moran Jr. and James F. Patton, former indoor air and water quality specialist, are seeking reinstatement. If they are employed at the time of the decision, they want compensation for money lost while out of work, said their attorney, George A. Nilson.

Nilson said the employees were denied their legal rights when told May 31 -- days after the release of a scathing audit on the department -- that their jobs would be eliminated and were directed to vacate their offices on the next business day. Other departmental employees had been notified of cost-cutting layoffs months in advance so they could look for other jobs, he said.

"These guys got essentially no notice and no opportunity to sit down and discuss the decision," he said.

School district spokesman Donald I. Mohler III declined to comment yesterday, saying it is inappropriate to discuss personnel matters.

Nilson also said that the school auditors did not give the employees an opportunity to respond to allegations in the audits, which detail mismanagement and violation of bidding laws and procurement practices -- though they were promised such an opportunity before the documents were released.

The former managers have requested a hearing before the school board but a date has not been set, he said.

The audits completed this spring included a review of what went wrong with a $2.2 million renovation of Deer Park Elementary School and a general review of the facilities department. The general audit does not name people, contractors, projects or dollar figures.

"If the school system and the auditors believe in the correctness of that audit they'd make the backup material available to any interested people, so they could either establish that the audit reached legitimate conclusions," Nilson said. "Their unwillingness to let the audit be tested makes me and my clients even more skeptical that there is any real substance to the audit."

Frances Parker, the audit office supervisor, yesterday did not return a call seeking comment.

The three managers were in charge of various phases of the Deer Park renovation and its aftermath, when air quality complaints went ignored for months, according to the audit and interviews with teachers. The school closed in March.

Moran has found a job in the building industry, Klein is seeking work and Patton could not be reached for comment.

Faith C. Hermann, the former executive director who supervised the three managers, was transferred to the curriculum department in April, and later named an English department supervisor.

In a recent interview, Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione defended his decision to terminate the three managers but let their boss keep a job in the school district. The managers were employed on an annual basis, he said; the department was reorganizing and their positions did not fit into the organization.

Hermann, by contrast, has tenure and to fire her would require proof of misdeeds or incompetence, which Marchione said he does not have. He characterized her as a knowledgeable English specialist, and a popular former principal. "We're still in the process of learning who was directly responsible," for problems in the facilities department, he said.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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