School officials should know: Taxpayers careOne of the...


May 09, 1999

School officials should know: Taxpayers care

One of the reasons that I'm writing this is that I have been told that the school administration doesn't think that citizens care. I can understand that.

When a member of the Board of Education responds to a request from a county commissioner for past performance audits with a remark that the commissioners didn't get them because the school board didn't know they wanted them, how can an ordinary citizen possibly know enough to care?

One thing that must be made clear is that the school board and school administration are different bodies.

The school board is elected and represents the people. The administration, including the superintendent, are county employees who work for the Board of Education, not the other way around.

And one should not tar the whole school board with the same brush.

There is one independent thinker on the board, Susan Krebs, who is desperately trying to honor her campaign promises to make the system accountable.

Carroll County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who sits as ex-officio member of the Board of Education, seems to be trying, as does Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, to get to the bottom of the recent construction fiasco.

Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said of the third member of the Board of Commissioners.

Recently, the Board of Education rejected a motion by Mrs. Krebs for a joint school board/commissioner committee to oversee a performance audit of the Cranberry Station Elementary School project in Westminster.

The vote was 4-1 against. This was a week after the school board and commissioners agreed to the audit in accordance with Mrs. Krebs' motion.

Superintendent William H. Hyde wanted to defer the audit until after the school is opened and then to have it controlled by his staff.

Evidently, Mr. Hyde believes the public is naive enough to settle for an audit directed by the group that is under investigation. The phrase I have heard in a dozen conversations on this subject is, "That's like having the fox guard the chicken coop."

Some members of the school board criticized Mrs. Krebs' motion as being "very complicated." It was simple.

The motion was that the Board of Education and commissioners jointly chair a committee to define the scope of the audit, to select the auditor, to manage the process and to receive recommendations made directly to the board and commissioners.

The majority of the school board seems to be more concerned about whether the mess will splatter them than about solving the problem.

When the school board met with the commissioners weeks ago on the Cranberry Station project, the staff put together a package on the subject, briefed the commissioners for 90 minutes, then arrogantly demanded that the commissioners return the package before they left the room.

Subsequent to this meeting, the staff held a public meeting on the issue (on March 10). As a result of comments made by the staff at that meeting, the contractor has filed a $45 million lawsuit alleging defamation.

In 1995, the county approved a $105 million construction program for six schools in six years. The staff's management of this program has led to a series of over-budget and delayed projects.

Staff demands for an apology over a dispute about hauling rock from the Cranberry Station site have contributed to a $1.7 million cost overrun and two lawsuits.

The staff erred again at Francis Scott Key High School by allowing construction of a sewage treatment facility without the required discharge and construction permits.

This fiasco has cost the county $800,000 for a system that cannot be used, plus $700,000 in extra costs plus costs that mount at more than $110,000 a year to haul away untreated sewage.

That's $3.2 million and counting that could have been put to better use. How many additional teachers could we put in crowded classrooms with $3.2 million?

In most places, staff who caused a loss on that scale because of ignorance, arrogance or any other reason would not be promoted. And a chief executive officer who would not permit an independent and unbiased audit to account for the loss would not last. There needs to be some housecleaning at the upper levels of the school administration.

The citizens of Carroll County do care. When millions of their tax dollars are wasted, they care.

They care when school administration executives cover for incompetent staff by delaying and attempting to control the outcome of a needed performance audit.

The taxpayers deserve an open and competent administration -- one that is not afraid of being accountable.

Phil Bennett, Eldersburg

Dixon, Schaefer heroes for Carroll

Hooray state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer for their support of Carroll County. We may not get our bypasses for another few years, but I think we will prevail in the end.

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