School board's stubborn stand

Carroll County: Officials threaten construction program by refusing necessary performance audit.

April 20, 1999

ARROGANT AND insulting to the public: That describes the Carroll County school board's refusal to allow an independent construction audit of the troubled, over-budget Cranberry Station Elementary.

The board's stubborn stand can do nothing but harm the county's important school building program. The county commissioners are already torn about the need to build one new $30 million high school or two in the next four years, with cost and accountability major factors.

The action also sends a disturbing message to taxpayers that members of the school board, and school administration, believe they can do no wrong.

Cranberry Station, planned to open this fall, is reportedly $1.7 million over budget. The commissioners are understandably displeased, especially since school officials earlier supported the idea of a performance audit. Instead, the school administration now says it wants a consultant to analyze the project after it is completed.

The commissioners are taking over the idle $800,000 sewage plant at Francis Scott Key High, which the school system built illegally. The plant can't be used, and sewage is being trucked to another plant at a cost of $110,000 a year. Other options will add to the project cost.

The state, which provides about 60 percent of local school construction costs, is also looking askance at Carroll's disappointing record. The state funding agency may approve cost overruns, but it can also sanction mismanagement by denying future requests.

Maryland law apparently prevents county government from assuming school construction authority. But the commissioners control the local budget (and tax rate) that fund the system. It has a mandate to assure full financial accountability from the school board. School officials are misreading this situation badly. They should rethink their position.

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