School board slow to act on criticisms

No meetings held specifically to discuss Bennett team's report

100-page document

Grand jury expands investigation of spending problems

April 20, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

As a grand jury expands its inquiry beyond school construction and into possible misspending in the Carroll County school system, the county Board of Education has yet to meet to discuss problems it is charged with correcting.

In the three weeks since the release of an independent report highly critical of school construction projects, board members have talked only briefly and by phone about their school system's woes with board President C. Scott Stone.

One board member, Susan W. Krebs, said she has never been called back when she's tried to reach her colleagues to discuss the report.

"We just paid $200,000 for a report and for what? So we could read it and embarrass the school system?" Krebs said yesterday. "If we do nothing with this report, we might as well just burn the $200,000 we spent on it."

Since the 100-page document -- prepared by former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett and a team of lawyers and former FBI agents -- was released March 27, the school board has met publicly to approve a redistricting plan.

It has met in closed session to discuss a lawsuit, electricity deregulation, a reporter's Public Information Act request and the school performance audit.

The board has met publicly at its regular monthly meeting to adjust redistricting plans, approve a grading contract for the new Westminster-area high school and accept a schedule from superintendent William H. Hyde to analyze and respond to Bennett's report.

At that meeting, where a school board candidate, a school's PTA president and the president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs spoke about the report, the five school board members said nothing.

Contacted yesterday, each had a different explanation for why the subject has not come up.

Stone said that although the board had not planned a time to talk about the report, he is trying to schedule time for a closed discussion by the end of the month.

"I've been working through that this week," he said. "I haven't contacted all the board members yet but I hope to do it this evening."

He suggested the board might be able to find time during a work session scheduled Wednesday,

Gary W. Bauer said the board had planned to discuss the report after the last school board meeting but that by the time the public segment was over, "it was so late that everyone was tired and wanted to go home."

The meeting ended about 9: 45 p.m. and neither the agenda for the public meeting nor the agenda for the closed session included the report.

Bauer said he thinks the board should "sit down and talk about what's in the report," though he has not asked the board president to schedule time.

Susan M. Ballard said the board discussed the report before it was released when Bennett gathered members to review his findings for factual errors.

Krebs has said that 90 percent of that five-hour meeting was spent listening to editing suggestions from Hyde and board attorney Edmund O'Meally.

Ballard added that she has not spoken specifically about the report with other board members. "We really don't spend a lot of time calling each other and talking," she said. She wants to wait until school system staff have analyzed the report and prepared an action plan before "we sit down as a board and figure out what we're going to do."

Though Joseph D. Mish Jr. could not remember when it occurred, he said the board had briefly discussed the report in a closed meeting. "We haven't sat down specifically and discussed what we're going to do about it," he said. "But we've had closed sessions and the report has come up."

Mish said he wants to get through the school year before the board plans a more lengthy discussion. "I think action needs to be taken and it will be taken after a brief time," he said.

Krebs said board members have ignored all her phone messages to discuss the report and she has not been informed that Stone is planning a meeting.

"I am very concerned that I am reading about actions of the Board of Education in the paper when the board has not acted at all," she said, referring to an announcement this week by Stone and Hyde that they appointed an elementary education supervisor to lead the analysis of the Bennett report, identify remaining problems and develop a plan to correct them.

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