School system soap opera

Carroll County: Grand jury report might help educate a very confused and skeptical public.

October 29, 1999

THE POT CONTINUES to boil in the unending soap opera of the Carroll County school system.

The grand jury investigation is apparently completed. We hope there will be something to show soon for the secret deliberations of the 23-member panel.

Now comes a longtime school system critic, former school comptroller James E. Reter, who churns up a lurid plot twist involving marital infidelity and blackmail of school officials. Mr. Reter, who was defeated in the 1998 election for the county Board of Education, wrote the grand jury offering to tell details of his affair with a co-worker and of alleged threats by the school superintendent to expose him.

Mr. Reter's departure from the education department was anything but pleasant; his embarrassing complaint could be dismissed as sour grapes. It gains public attention only because of mounting mistrust of the board majority and of the school administration. (It also raises questions of Mr. Reter's judgment about personal correspondence left behind when he departed from the job, but that's another matter.)

Mr. Reter also accuses the school system of illegal fund transfers. That's not necessarily revealing either: A state school official reminded the board last year that state money for construction is earmarked for specific projects, not a block grant for the board to use as it wishes.

The school board must heed public concerns about financial and construction management. To date, it has met the criticism with unapologetic diffidence. The county commissioners are holding back $1 million from the budget until a systemwide school audit is conducted. A report of grand jury findings would be useful to the school system and to an increasingly skeptical public about management of this vital mission that consumes about 48 cents of the local tax dollar.

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