O'Rourke weighs in on audit

Most of consultant's ideas feasible, he tells board

21 should be discarded

September 13, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Nearly a year after Howard County school administrators began assessing which suggestions in a consultant's school district performance audit were feasible, Superintendent John R. O'Rourke says it is time to fully incorporate the changes and improvements into the fabric of the school system.

Officials have been studying since November the 123 recommendations suggested last fall in a $250,000 Management and Performance Review of the district's practices.

Of those, O'Rourke told board members at their regular meeting last night, 34 are under way in the district and 68 should be implemented or studied further. Twenty-one of the consultant's ideas should be discarded, he said.

Board members gave O'Rourke a thumbs-up for his staff's careful breakdown of the recommendations and said they were impressed by how quickly and thoroughly the superintendent acted on the audit.

"It's just impressive to me how far everybody's come and how much work everybody's done," said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French. "And I think it's perfectly OK that we're not implementing some. Nobody's perfect, not even a consultant. And our staff knows what's best for us."

O'Rourke's staff, for example, decided that the consultant's idea to consolidate several responsibilities -- including grant- writing and school-business partnerships -- under the umbrella of the public information office was not practical because there were too many curriculum and instruction issues assigned to many of those areas.

Staff members also agreed that it was not cost-effective to conduct follow-up studies of Howard alumni after graduation, despite the consultant's recommendation to do so.

The performance audit, completed last fall, was a joint effort of the school system and the county government and was intended to evaluate all aspects of the system, from salaries and hiring practices to building operations and students' academic performance.

Consultants visited Howard schools and administrative offices over 10 months and presented officials with a 2-inch- thick report, punctuated by the 123 recommendations.

The report was largely favorable, but it said that Howard schools lacked clear vision and leadership, needed to operate more as "one school system" and needed to involve the community more.

Many of the consultant's recommendations already are in place in the system, including O'Rourke's reorganization of the system's central-office departments and leadership, the development of a student achievement plan that delivers more support to students in need, and the formation of a committee to address the needs of non-college-bound students and study the county's technology magnet and vocational education programs.

O'Rourke also reported to the school board last night that he planned to take another of the consultant's recommendations a step further. With the help of his advisory District Planning Team, the superintendent said he plans to hire someone to develop a Comprehensive Facilities Master Plan -- one of three priorities the planning team has set as goals for the system.

O'Rourke said he wants the master plan to go beyond the money-planning capabilities of the capital improvement plan. The master plan will establish a working matrix that can be used to anticipate when schools need important work done and what the system considers to be bare-minimum programming needs.

The issue came to a head last month when a committee charged with determining what improvements should be made at 51-year-old Howard High School surprised the school board with a list of renovations that would cost $12 million or more -- three times what the board had budgeted for the school.

O'Rourke said the school system should move quickly to get an expert started on the plan.

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