Hogan establishes statewide investigator for schools
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.”