Board exerts pressure on Hyde

Schools chief directed to enact reforms in construction agency

March 29, 2000|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

A day after investigators released a report excoriating Carroll County's school construction department for what it called a lack of experience and organization, members of the Carroll County school board began pressuring Superintendent William H. Hyde to clean up the department.

Board members said yesterday it is too early to discuss changes in staff -- though one member, Susan W. Krebs, called for "significant" personnel changes. The board has directed Hyde to attend a board meeting April 12 prepared with an "action plan" for enacting reforms.

"We've asked the superintendent to move quickly," said board President C. Scott Stone. "It was a disturbing report."

The 100-page document characterized the construction department as hampered by chaotic recordkeeping and haphazard decision-making. The report said several projects were bungled, calling one, Cranberry Station Elementary, "a disaster."

The investigators, led by attorney Richard D. Bennett, stressed that they accused no specific individuals of acts of wrongdoing. They did, however, mention Lester P. Surber, the former director of school facilities and planning who has been demoted, and Vernon F. Smith, assistant superintendent of administration, as the responsible parties in many cases.

"There is a sense of urgency to bring closure to this matter," said Stone. "The board does not want the public to get the impression that we get this report, and that's the end of it."

Krebs said the board's directive to Hyde to respond next month was a first step. "It is going to take a lot longer than a couple of weeks to get procedures in place after years of neglect," she said.

Personnel changes would have to be recommended by Hyde, then approved by the board. The board has authority only to hire and fire the superintendent.

Stone said the board has not met to discuss Hyde's role in the construction problems and his job, but that it was "on my list" to ask other board members if they would like to hold such a meeting.

Board member Ann M. Ballard said she had been content to brush aside many of the construction blunders until reading the report. She, like Stone, said she was disturbed most by findings that school construction staff neglected -- sometimes intentionally -- to inform the board about cost overruns and construction delays.

"You put these people in charge, they work for you and you expect them to come to you and tell you what's going on," Ballard said. "We are responsible, but sometimes we are not fed the correct information to be more responsible."

The report also faulted the school board and Board of County Commissioners, saying they failed to provide sufficient oversight of construction projects.

Investigators found "consistent failures" in school construction over the past several years that extended beyond two high-profile projects -- Cranberry Station and a sewage treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High -- that led to lawsuits last year.

Bennett was hired by the board in December to lead the inquiry. As of mid-March, the inquiry had cost taxpayers $173,000. Part of Bennett's findings were sealed and passed directly to Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes and might become part of a grand jury investigation of the school system that began in May after the construction problems surfaced.

Hyde declined yesterday to be interviewed. He agreed to answer written questions, but did not respond to them after they were sent to his office.

Board members Joseph D. Mish Jr. and Gary W. Bauer could not be reached. The board had agreed that Stone was to speak on behalf of the five-member elected panel with regard to Bennett's report.

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