Members of the Carroll County Board of Education reacted yesterday with dismay and anger to the public and sharp criticism they received from Susan W. Krebs, the panel's newest member.
Krebs said Wednesday that she was embarrassed and ashamed that a grand jury is examining school construction projects and that board members seem "more concerned about their pride than admitting their mistakes."
In a five-minute, prepared speech delivered after the board's monthly meeting, Krebs criticized the board for its "defend and ignore" policy.
Board member C. Scott Stone, in a written statement sent by fax to The Sun, said: "I deeply regret that a board member, a person elected to advocate, champion and support Carroll County Public Schools, would say such mean-spirited and hurtful comments. I disagree with Mrs. Krebs' comments and abhor the manner in which she chose to deliver them."
Krebs also said her colleagues were not living up to the same standards of character they preach to schoolchildren and urged the board "to take the lead in regaining the trust and respect of the community."
The grand jury is looking into the board's handling of construction projects, including Cranberry Station Elementary School, which opened last month more than $1 million over budget, and Francis Scott Key High School, where officials built a sewage treatment plant without obtaining the required state permits.
Ann M. Ballard, a nine-year veteran of the board who worked on Krebs' election campaign last year, took issue with airing the problems in public.
`I took it personally'
"It was inappropriate to bash us so publicly," said Ballard. "I took it personally. The board and the staff have worked so hard. We were devastated."
Any disagreement should have been addressed in private, Ballard said. During her time on the board, Ballard said many disputes have arisen among the members.
"Disagreements have always been resolved in private and no one ever knows," Ballard said. "How else can we have a working relationship?"
Ballard agreed mistakes had been made, but "let us put those behind us and move forward for the good of the children," she said. "There is so much more to do. I want to focus on achievements and what we have to do for our children. We can't keep rehashing things that have happened."
Ballard said she "was caught totally off guard" by Krebs' remarks.
"I looked at the faces of the board and the staff and saw how devastated they were," said Ballard. "She publicly bashes us and then says she wants a working relationship with us."
Board member Joseph D. Mish Jr. said yesterday that Krebs' speech was "filled with half-truths and misstatements. Some things don't deserve any reaction." He offered no further comment.
At every board meeting, the school staff gives members a construction report. The board approved both projects at issue. Krebs has repeatedly called the board a rubber stamp for school officials and has often cast the dissenting vote.
`We can't micromanage'
"I am not an expert on construction," said Ballard. "We have to trust the experts. We can't micromanage. I didn't run out to FSK and check out the site.
"But, Susan Krebs is saying she does not trust the experts we have. This bashing of the board over and over is really splitting the board."
Public opinion might be with the board, Ballard said. On a shopping trip yesterday, "people were offering me sympathy for the negative remarks."
After the meeting, Gary W. Bauer, board president, refused to comment. Vernon F. Smith, assistant superintendent for administration, who oversees the facilities department responsible for the two projects at issue, said yesterday he would not comment on Krebs' statement.
"It is Mrs. Krebs' opinion," Smith said. "I will not make any comments."
Many school employees told Stone yesterday that they took Krebs' comments personally.
"I hope and pray that they'll find comfort in the fact that the remaining board members appreciate, respect and value their commitment and dedication to Carroll County students and public education in general," Stone said. "Without their hard work and perseverance, Carroll County Public Schools would not be the outstanding institution that it is today."