City schools lack financial controls

No-bid contracts: Booker has failed to implement tough contracting procedures.

May 31, 2000

THE SUREST WAY for those who run Baltimore's public school system to alienate allies in the Maryland State House is to squander money by failing to impose fiscal controls.

Yet that's what seems to be happening. In the most recent episode, detailed yesterday by The Sun's JoAnna Daemmrich and Liz Bowie, two consultants were awarded no-bid contracts to oversee energy-conservation work under highly questionable circumstances that may have cost the city school board more than $1 million.

Worse, the board wasn't told about one contract for seven months; the other went to a golfing buddy of the school official overseeing the project.

These contracts come on the heels of a controversy, also first revealed in The Sun, over a school technology contract that doubled in cost without board approval.

What's going on here? Isn't anyone in charge of the city school system's financial management?

Such mismanagement mars the record of outgoing education chief Robert Booker. Ironically, he was hired for his financial expertise. Now it will be up to Mr. Booker's successor to impose accountability and financial controls that should have been in place long ago.

How can school officials seek more funds from Annapolis when there is such shoddy awarding of contracts? How can we have faith in a school system that lacks safeguards against abuses?

Will contract games be played with the $46.8 million given to the city by the governor and General Assembly for school renovations?

If so, the school board may be the last to know. Oversight procedures are lacking. No auditor reviews contracts; competitive bidding isn't always required; some officials feel no obligation to keep the board informed.

This is unacceptable. Board members are part-time volunteers. They don't have the time or expertise to monitor contract awards.

That's why procedures must be adopted, along the lines of the state's procurement laws, requiring competitive bidding in nearly all cases, multiple levels of contract reviews and frequent performance evaluations.

Baltimore's public school system has a $856 million budget. It must be run like a business. Otherwise, scandals will mount, and support in Annapolis for helping Baltimore's schools will erode.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.