Baltimore City schools to get advice from Neall

Former Arundel executive to be financial consultant

October 22, 2003|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Robert R. Neall, a former state legislator and Anne Arundel County executive known for his financial acumen, will be an unpaid consultant to the Baltimore school system, advising the district on money matters.

With the resignation last week of the system's chief financial officer, Mark Smolarz, and a $52 million carryover deficit, schools interim Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland said she asked Neall to lend a hand.

"He is going to help us on an interim basis to review the financial reports and get us rolling on the budget" for next year, she said.

Neall, a director of finance at Johns Hopkins Health Systems, began yesterday by talking to the city school finance staff and gathering information, Copeland said. Still to be worked out are details of Neall's involvement, such as how many days a week he will help the district and for how long. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Copeland said she is grateful to Ronald R. Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins Health System, for lending Neall to the school system.

"We are getting one of the best minds in the financial arena," Copeland said.

Neall may be one of a number of executives who are lent to the school system, she indicated.

"We are trying to put together a team of people," the schools chief said.

The school system will begin searching for a new chief financial officer immediately, but Neall is not interested in the job, Copeland said.

Neall spent years in the state legislature in the House and the Senate, always on budget committees. He also has been a member of the Thornton Commission, which studied the state financing of schools.

In 1990, Neall was elected county executive in Anne Arundel, but did not seek re-election. He was appointed to a Senate seat in 1996 after his friend and mentor John A. Cade died, but was defeated last fall after switching parties from Republican to Democrat three years earlier.

Neall was known in the legislature for his expertise in finances, pension reform and health insurance.

After a year during which the school system has been criticized by the City Council and state lawmakers for poor budget management, Copeland said Neall could help "restore our financial credibility."

"Senator Neall brings a reputation of fiscal prudence to a situation that is in dire need of one," said Christopher Maher, education director of Advocates for Children and Youth.

It was during his years as a legislator from Anne Arundel that Neall met Copeland, who was working in the county's school system. When she moved to a job at the State Department of Education, she frequently answered questions in front of his legislative committee. And when the city school board announced last spring that she would take over as interim CEO, Copeland said a number of people offered to lend assistance if it were needed.

Copeland said she called Neall and told him, "Well, this is the time."

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