Overhaul for school system

Carroll County: Investigators find abuse, waste, lack of supervision in school construction projects.

March 31, 2000

IF THERE is a more damning, sweeping indictment of endemic malfeasance in a Maryland school construction program, the public has yet to see it.

A 100-page report by independent investigators places heaps of blame for Carroll County school building problems at the feet of those chosen to lead the system.

The report, commissioned by the board under heavy public pressure, doesn't include more "sensitive" material turned over to the state's attorney and grand jury.

"Consistent failures" of the Carroll school construction program were documented by the Baltimore law firm of Miles & Stockbridge.

The report describes "chaotic," "egregious" and "wasteful" actions by school officials.

It lists a long string of missteps by the administration and school board, including bid procedures that violated rules, costly change orders made without proper approval, flouting of permit requirements, lack of coordination and communication between various levels of oversight.

Improvements in the construction program have been made over the past 18 months, the report notes.

Yet the overlying doubt about oversight, supervision and responsibility persists.

The system's structure contributes to some problems. The publicly elected board of education only hires the superintendent, for whom they must rely on advice to run the district. Since 1994, the two Carroll superintendents have embraced been of the mind that the current way of doing things is fine.

But the stakes rose dramatically in the mid-1990s, as the county began an ambitious building program to address soaring enrollment. The old ways magnified the problems.

Major changes are due -- not just empty apologies from school officials. The school board should seriously consider personnel changes. And it must reexamine its own passivity in overseeing multi-million-dollar projects.

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