Ho­gan es­tab­lishes statewide in­ves­ti­ga­tor for schools

The Enterprise - - Community Forum - By BROOKS DUBOSE Staff writer Jacqui Atkielski con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der Sept. 4 form­ing an Of­fice of Ed­u­ca­tion Ac­count­abil­ity, an in­de­pen­dently ap­pointed in­ves­ti­ga­tor gen­eral, to look into al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, abuse and other im­pro­pri­eties in the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems across the state.

Cathy Allen, St. Mary’s school board mem­ber, said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day that the school sys­tem and board “al­ready com­ply with” the va­ri­ety of fis­cal and op­er­a­tive ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures, in­clud­ing an­nual au­dits.

She said she “feels strongly [that] since we have con­sis­tently passed” the au­dits, the school board and sys­tem are “quite well cov­ered.”

Allen said “we have the ex­pec­ta­tion for our­selves and our sys­tem … [to] make sure we con­duct our­selves ap­pro­pri­ately at all times and in all ways.”

Su­per­in­ten­dent Scott Smith said in an email Wed­nes­day that it “is un­clear how the new po­si­tion added to the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice for Chil­dren will in­ter­act with ex­ist­ing over­sight po­si­tions and of­fices.”

He said St. Mary’s schools have Mike Wat­son, the ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer, and the Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has the of­fice of the om­buds­man “to re­spond to con­cerns brought forth from par­ents and the com­mu­nity we serve.”

He said he be­lieves “in a smaller gov­ern­ment and that prob­lems are solved clos­est to their source.”

The gov­er­nor’s an­nounce­ment comes on the heels of sev­eral high-pro­file scan­dals in other Mary­land school sys­tems.

In Prince Ge­orge’s County, school board mem­bers last year ac­cused county school sys­tem lead­er­ship of ar­ti­fi­cially in­flat­ing grad­u­a­tion rates by al­ter­ing stu­dents’ grades, and in March cited un­ap­proved pay raises for some school sys­tem staff.

Ho­gan high­lighted for­mer Baltimore County Schools Su- per­in­ten­dent Dal­las Dance’s re­cent jail sen­tence after he pleaded guilty in March to per­jury as an ex­am­ple of the need for more over­sight. Dance failed to dis­close in­come he re­ceived from a com­pany after he helped it ob­tain a no-bid con­tract with the school sys­tem.

“After re­peated al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing, mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion, cit­i­zens have lost con­fi­dence in the lead­er­ship of their lo­cal school sys­tems,” Ho­gan said at a news con­fer­ence. “Our chil­dren can­not and should not have to wait un­til the leg­is­la­ture re­turns in Jan­uary. They de­serve ac­tion be­gin­ning right now.”

The newly formed of­fice “will act as a li­ai­son be­tween lo­cal boards of ed­u­ca­tion, the state board of ed­u­ca­tion and Mary­land’s con­cerned cit­i­zens,” Ho­gan said. “This new unit will be re­spon­si­ble for an­a­lyz­ing, co­or­di­nat­ing and pro­vid­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on mat­ters in­clud­ing pro­cure­ment im­pro­pri­eties, abuse, ne­glect, safety, grade fix­ing, grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments, as­sess­ments, ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties and bud­getary is­sues.”

A bill Ho­gan, run­ning for re-elec­tion, spear­headed ear­lier this year to es­tab­lish an in­ves­tiga­tive over­sight of­fice for schools failed in the Demo­crat-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture.

The gov­er­nor’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der will be fol­lowed by the in­tro­duc­tion of the Ac­count­abil­ity in Ed­u­ca­tion Act of 2019 to the Gen­eral Assem­bly after the leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins Jan. 9, Ho­gan said. The act would es­tab­lish the Of­fice of State Ed­u­ca­tion In­ves­ti­ga­tor Gen­eral, an in­de­pen­dent part of the Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, and would be ap­pointed by Ho­gan, Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles and Prince Ge­orge’s) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arun­del).

“This new of­fice will be charged with in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­plaints of un­eth­i­cal, un­pro­fes­sional, im­proper or il­le­gal con­duct in our schools,” Ho­gan said, and “will be able to make in­quiries, have the abil­ity to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion by sub­poena and hold hear­ings in or­der to get to the truth.”

John Woolums, the di­rec­tor of gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions for the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion, said his of­fice has pre­vi­ously op­posed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a statewide in­spec­tor gen­eral, and their po­si­tion would not change with the gov­er­nor’s an­nounce­ment.

“It’s not re­flec­tive of any re­luc­tance to be sub­ject to ac­count­abil­ity but in fact it’s be­cause there is am­ple au­thor­ity re­sid­ing with the state’s su­per­in­ten­dent of schools and the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to pro­vide over­sight and en­force state laws and reg­u­la­tions that they de­ter­mine are not be­ing fol­lowed or ad­hered to by lo­cal school sys­tems,” Woolums said. “There have been bills in the past in­tro­duced to cre­ate an in­spec­tor gen­eral and we’ve tra­di­tion­ally and con­sis­tently op­posed those.”

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