–—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Annapolis, Maryland. – Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order today, creating an Office of Education Accountability, a “watchdog unit” which will be responsible for overseeing Maryland’s local school districts to ensure that they have proper oversight.
In light of recent scandals involving Baltimore City and Baltimore, Washington, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Hogan first announced his plans to introduce a new Accountability in Education Act of 2019 in January, if victorious in the upcoming election, but he said that Maryland children simply cannot wait.
“Our children cannot and should not have to wait until the legislature returns to Annapolis in January; they deserve action beginning right now,” Hogan said. “So today, I am issuing an executive order which will establish the Office of Education Accountability, an independent watchdog unit.”
He signed the order today and named the new department’s director, Valerie Radomsky, a former Baltimore County high school teacher who has worked in the administration as its Board of Public Works’ coordinator since 2016.
Radomsky will now act as a liaison between local boards of education, the state board of education and Maryland’s concerned citizens. Hogan said the department will be responsible or analyzing, coordinating and providing recommendations on matters such as procurement improprieties, abuse, neglect, safety, grade fixing, graduation requirements, facilities and budgetary issues.
Last January, Hogan introduced the Accountability in Education Act of 2018, but it was shot down by the a majority of legislators.
Hogan said today it was a failure of lawmakers. “The legislators decided that there would be no real accountability at all,” he said.
But when asked how the 2019 version of the act would get passed, Hogan said legislators may feel the pressure to respond now. The new act will also seek to appoint an Investigator General (IG) which will oversee Maryland’s school systems, as Hogan had also introduced in January.
“Today, I am announcing that on the first day of the legislative session, we will introduce the Accountability in Education Act of 2019, which will create an Office of the State Investigator General,” he said.
Hogan said the IG would be an independent unit at the Maryland State Department of Education. The investigator would be independently appointed by a commission whose members would be made up of appointments by the governor, senate leader and speaker of the house.
The office will be charged with “investigating complaints of unethical behavior, unprofessional, improper or illegal conduct in our schools,” Hogan said. And the new independent IG will be able to make inquiries, obtain information via subpoena and hold hearings “in order to get to the truth.”
Hogan, a Republican running for a second term in November, said he will also be creating a “whistle-blower hotline” which will protect concerned stakeholders when they report fraud, waste and abuse suspected at the local school systems.
Four Baltimore County school board members, who have been fighting for an audit of Baltimore County schools’ procurement contracts since November, attended the press conference. Julie Henn, Roger Hayden, Ann Miller and Kathleen Causey have been in the minority on their 12-member board when it has come to requests – and votes – for more state oversight.
In response to Hogan’s announcement, Julie Henn told The Baltimore Post, “I am enormously grateful for Governor Hogan’s action to correct the trajectory of education in Baltimore County and to hold its leaders accountable to deliver on their commitments to our children’s futures. Enough is enough.” Henn is running unopposed to represent District Five after her only opponent withdrew from the election to pursue an out of state job.
At large member Ann Miller said, “This is an important step by Gov. Hogan towards establishing accountability and oversight of our school systems which will give the public an avenue for addressing issues of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and ethical issues.” Miller is not seeking to retain her seat on the board.
Kathleen Causey, who is running to remain District Three’s board representative said, “I appreciate Governor Hogan taking action to increase accountability for the benefit of children’s health, safety and the critical mission of providing them a truly world class education, no matter what their zip code.”
Causey continued, “Today there are children who are in substandard facilities. In the case of Baltimore County and Baltimore City, children are missing time in schools because of no air-conditioning. This is not equitable nor acceptable. Leaders must be held accountable for decisions about the use of funding provided by state and county funding partners, through the taxpayers.”
But Ben Jealous, Hogan’s opponent and Democratic candidate for governor, was less optimistic about Hogan’s announcement today. Jealous issued a statement after the press conference. “Today as many of our kids across our state can’t start learning because their schools lack cooling, Larry Hogan is yet again attempting to pass the blame instead of offering solutions,” Jealous said. “A political investigator run out of the Governor’s Office won’t change the fact that our schools are underfunded by billions of dollars and our teachers are underpaid. As governor, I will fully fund our schools, not blame our hardworking teachers and support staff.”