Citing School Scandals, Maryland Governor Creates New Accountability Office

by | September 5, 2018

By Michael Dresser

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday renewed his call for accountability in Maryland's local school systems, but Democratic challenger Ben Jealous said that what they really need is more funding.

With two months to go before the Nov. 6 election, the two candidates both staked out education as their main issue on the first day of classes for most of Maryland's public school students -- except for many in the Baltimore region whose buildings lack air conditioning.

At a State House news conference, the Republican governor pointed to a series of scandals in local school systems around the state while vowing to submit legislation for the second straight year creating an "investigator general" in the Maryland State Department of Education. He also signed an executive order creating an Office of Education Accountability under the Governor's Office for Children.

"Our children desperately need someone to fight for their civil rights," Hogan said.

Meanwhile, Jealous visited a Baltimore school to call for establishing a fund to reimburse teachers who spend personal funds on school supplies. The Democrat said he would create the fund by allowing Maryland residents to donate a portion of their tax refunds to it.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, the former NAACP president dismissed Hogan's accountability announcement.

"He would prefer to blame local leaders and bring in lawyers when first and foremost we should be focused on making sure every school gets the resources it needs to properly educate our children," Jealous said.

The question of whether Maryland is spending enough to educate children in its public schools is one of the central issues in this year's gubernatorial race.

As sweltering weather forced the closing of 10 Baltimore County schools Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan blamed local officials for the hot buildings while his Democratic challenger in this year's election said the Republican governor should take responsibility.

The first day of classes became an occasion...

Hogan insists he has fully funded schools under the state's current education formulas. Jealous insists that those formulas fall well short of what the schools need -- a position that has helped him win the support of the state's teachers unions.

The governor said at his news conference that he believes teachers should be better paid. He said school systems were spending too much on administrative costs.

Hogan also noted that he supports raising more money through the so-called "lockbox" proposal the General Assembly put on the November ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment. If it passes, the measure is expected by 2023 to reserve more than $500 million in annual casino revenue for education that now can be used for other purposes.

The governor said routinely holding school administrators accountable would help to ensure that they are wisely spending the nearly $6.5 billion Maryland spends on education each year.

"We are continuing our fight to improve Maryland local schools, as well as our fight for accountability in local school systems because the status quo simply is not good enough for Maryland's children," he said.

The governor said he would propose legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January to create the position of investigator general. The official would have the power to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings as part of an effort to weed out corruption and mismanagement in the state's 24 local school systems.

The investigator general would not be a direct gubernatorial appointment under Hogan's new bill. The official would be chosen by a commission whose members would be chosen by the governor, the speaker of the House and the Senate president.

A similar bill failed in this year's legislative session.

The governor predicted his proposed legislation will pass next year -- if he wins the election -- under pressure from taxpayers.

Hogan recounted a series of problems that have afflicted school systems in recent years -- the perjury conviction of former Baltimore County school superintendent Dallas Dance, alleged grade-tampering in Prince George's County and mold in Howard County schools.

A heat wave will continue to upend the start of school for the more than 70 Baltimore city and county schools without adequate air conditioning on what was supposed to be their second day back from summer vacation.

Baltimore City will close more than 60 schools three hours early on Wednesday, and...

The governor said he was creating the accountability office now to immediately begin providing greater transparency. He named Valerie Radomsky as director of the new office. The former Baltimore County teacher had been serving as Comptroller Peter Franchot's chief education advisor.

Hogan said the office's expenses would be covered out of the governor's office's existing budget. The position would not have the subpoena authority envisioned in the governor's proposed legislation.

Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat who attended the news conference, said he shares Hogan's desire for accountability.

"I believe it stops at the governor's desk," Luedtke said.

Like other Democrats, Luedtke sought to shift the debate to school funding, contending Hogan has fallen short in that area.

"This is a bunch of window-dressing," Luedtke said of the governor's announcements. "This is much ado about nothing new."

(c)2018 The Baltimore Sun