Schools facilities manager departs

Dixit asked to step down after uproar over lead in city water fountains

March 18, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

After weeks of problems related to lead-contaminated water in Baltimore schools' drinking fountains, the system's top facilities manager has been asked to step down, school officials said yesterday.

Pradeep Dixit's last day as the system's director of school facilities was Thursday. Officials would not discuss the specifics of Dixit's departure.

But schools chief Carmen V. Russo said yesterday that Dixit had a history of poor performance in his position.

"The final straw was a lack of responsiveness to the lead-in-the-water issue," Russo said.

Dixit could not be reached for comment.

School officials have been under fire for several weeks since it was discovered that students still were drinking from water fountains, a decade after those fountains were found to be dispensing lead-contaminated water.

After public outcry, city health commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson ordered that the fountains be shut off and replaced with bottled water coolers.

Weeks after the deadline, however, Beilenson is still finding schools with drinking fountains in use and has fined the schools more than $4,000 for failing to comply.

"Four more schools were cited" yesterday, Beilenson said. In at least one school - Patterson High School - six drinking fountains were still on.

"This is ridiculous," Beilenson said.

Since last week, a total of 41 schools have been found in violation of Beilenson's Feb. 26 order, despite repeated promises by Dixit and other officials that all schools would be in compliance within one week of the mandate.

Beilenson would not comment on Dixit's departure.

Main frustration

But at a school facilities committee meeting last month, a Health Department representative said Beilenson's main frustration was with facilities managers who, he said, were in their positions more than a decade ago when the first reports listed schools with high lead levels in the drinking water.

Health Department officials said at that meeting that facilities managers often missed deadlines for resolving the problem and submitted false reports saying fixes had been made when they had not.

Jack Elam, Dixit's second-in-command in the facilities department, said others at the school system's North Avenue headquarters were worried.

"I think there's anxiety for everybody," Elam said. "We had been forewarned that some people might be terminated because of the magnitude of this issue."

Seeking responsibility

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said yesterday that other school officials might be more responsible than Dixit for the mishandling of the lead problem.

"The question is whether he had enough support from administration to carry out the duties that he needed to do," Harris said.

"My concern is that this is something that has been going on for years," Harris said. "Ultimately, the responsibility falls on the CEO, and that's Carmen Russo. I'm beginning to question whether or not she should continue in that capacity as the leader of the school system with all this stuff going on."

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