First, we had the ongoing concern in Baltimore County Public Schools over the ethics of the Articulated Instruction Module grading system. Then, more recently, we have seen objection to the signage at Ruxton Ridge/West Towson Elementary School as being completely inappropriate to the historical character of the community. As if these two events weren't enough to blacken the eye of the BCPS administration, two more developments have arisen within the last week that make one wonder who is making what decisions, and with what accountability, on issues great and small at Greenwood.
Last week we learned that contractor James W. Ancel is being granted his request to abandon the $20 million construction project at Milford Mill Academy after having completed only a concrete foundation and two-foot-high walls, in addition to an unspecified amount of interior renovation ("Baltimore County school board awards new Milford Mill renovation contract," Jan. 13).
Mr. Ancel is being paid $7.6 million for work valued at $4 million. Mr. Ancel's decision to terminate the contract was based upon what all parties have agreed were serious questions regarding basic issues in the architectural drawings, issues that could imperil the structural integrity of the building and the safety of children and staff, not to mention the reputation of the builder.
At the core of this unfortunate debacle is a procedural shortcoming, namely, as admitted by Michael Sines, executive director of physical facilities, the fact that the school system's policy fails to ensure the kind of internal oversight that requires that architectural drawings be thoroughly reviewed before construction projects be put out for bid. And so a lack of "internal oversight" is going to cost the county (and its taxpayers) millions of dollars and the Milford Mill community at least four months of added construction time.
Lest anyone suspect that the powers that be at Greenwood are asleep at the policy wheel, we learned this week that BCPS has decided to ban craft shows at schools, despite the fact that PTA organizations have for nearly 30 years used such events as fundraisers to support projects and programs within the schools ("Baltimore County enforces policy barring craft fairs at schools," Jan. 17). The alleged issue here, as school system spokesman Charles Herndon explained, is that "it is not our mission to provide others the means to make money that is not for education purposes." The "others" in question are the so-called "third-party vendors" who admittedly profit from the sale of their own merchandise but who are in a position to do so only because they have paid a site fee to the local PTA or whatever school-affiliated group is sponsoring the event.
In response to parent questions regarding the permission granted to other profit-seeking third-party operatives, such as vendors of rings and photos, Mr. Herndon answered that "those companies are permissible because they are conducting education-related business." Pray tell, how do rings and pictures advance the cause of education? These vendors come in and sell both kids and their parents on pictures (especially team photos and high school graduation pose packages), rings, and the lengthy shopping list of graduation memorabilia. Granted, they then write generous checks to each school for the school's percentage cut of the total sales. And more often than not, that money winds up in the principal's discretionary fund.
But if a craft fair raises $13,000, as happens at Ridgely Middle School, is that check, which the PTA gives over to the principal, any less "education-related'?
Spokesman Herndon acknowledges that the policy regarding third-party vendors "is not new but the school system has recently been enforcing it." The picture we are looking at, therefore, is of a school system that, on the one hand, is wasting millions of dollars because it has no effective policy in a critical area, and yet has decided to invoke a questionable policy to pull the plug on a practice that stakeholder groups have traditionally used to enhance the educational programs for their community's children.
The school system has always had a "building use" procedure that requires anyone who wishes to use the physical facility to fill out a reservation form and pay a set fee, determined by the length of the activity, for the cost of the utilities and custodial care. As long as whatever sponsoring organization, be it the PTA or anyone else, complies with this protocol, I fail to see where a school crafts fair is in such great violation of any real or imaginary BCPS policy, especially at a time when far more critical issues need to be revisited.
George W. Nellies, Towson, Maryland