Report outlines `wasted funds'

March 28, 2000

In its report on the Carroll County Board of Education, a team of investigators described "a pattern of wasted funds" and gave a list of causes and examples of projects goings awry. Its findings include these excerpts:

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"During the course of the examination of the Carroll County School system construction department a number of problems emerged:

"a) Lack of construction or engineering experience by department administrators.

"b)Poor coordination between the construction department and other departments within the school system, particularly the purchasing department.

"c) Lack of sufficient and timely information being provided to the Board of Education, resulting in the [board] being unable to exercise sufficient oversight of school construction projects as they progressed.

"d) An aura of arrogance within the construction department administration in dealing with neighbors of schools.

"e) False savings, where funds thought to be saved later resulted in greater expenditures.

"f) Unauthorized changes of project scope.

"g) Unauthorized commitment of funds, with after-the-fact request for fund transfer."

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"In early 1966 Dr. [Lester] Surber, supervisor of construction, stated that work was begun on a new athletic field at Liberty High School at no cost to the school system. In a series of entries [in progress reports] prepared by Dr. Surber there was never any mention of funds being expended for this project, which was completed in May 1998. A subsequent audit disclosed that $76,762 had been expended on this `no cost' project."

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"Sometime in 1996 an athletic storage shed was constructed at Liberty High School. The shed is of ordinary construction, a 240-square-foot cinder block building with brick facing and an overhead door and service door. The building was budgeted for $40,000 but ended up costing $56,000, including a $2,500 charge for design and drawing services from a retired school construction department employee. A construction assistant in the department said a suitable building of the same size could have been built for $3,500."

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"Carroll County is a rapidly growing county which must face increased school needs with a well-defined, disciplined school construction program. It is very dangerous for the Board of Education to develop a laissez faire approach with respect to administrative matters. It is even more dangerous for school administration authorities to not provide full and accurate information to the Board and at the same time to accord a high level of decision making authority to subordinates. Such a process ultimately undermines the confidence of the public in the school construction program and breeds an unhealthy air of suspicion and cynicism."

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