—– By: Ann Costantino —–
An emergency Accountability in Education bill, put forth by Gov. Larry Hogan in September which seeks to create a state Investigator General (IG) position with the power to subpoena local education agencies, is being specifically opposed by at least three of Maryland’s education leader associations: the Maryland Boards of Education (MABE), the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), and the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland (PSSAM).
Renee Spence, the executive director of PSSAM, an association which represents the state’s 24 school district superintendents, said she was speaking on behalf of the association when she testified in opposition of the bill earlier this month.
“PSSAM opposes Senate Bill 92. We and the local superintendents take accountability very seriously. We support accountability, we appreciate accountability.” But, Spence said, “School systems are accountable to their local government, state agencies and federal agencies that have oversight of education.”
A statement on the MSEA’s website also read, “This bill would create an inspector general, chosen by Gov. Hogan’s political appointees, to investigate public school systems for the purpose of creating negative publicity about our public education system. MSEA will oppose.”
But just over the last two years, at least one third of Maryland’s 24 school districts have created their own negative publicity all by themselves. Some of those controversies led directly to Hogan’s decision to ask for support for his proposed legislation:
- Anne Arundel County – Allegations of special education non-compliance.
- Baltimore City – Allegations of grade fixing and inflation.
- Baltimore County – Former Superintendent Dallas Dance convicted of perjury. School government liaison, Bob Barrett, convicted of tax evasion.
- Charles County – “Unprecedented” cases of students molested by an instructional aide.
- Howard County – Allegations of unaddressed mold in school buildings and noncompliance with open records laws. Superintendent, purported to have withheld information requested by school board members, also paid $1.65 million by school district to step down before end of contract.
- Montgomery County – (Unrelated) allegations of rape and rape charges.
- Prince George’s County – Allegations and findings of grade inflation. Superintendent stepped down before end of contract, to be compensated $800,000.
- Washington County – Board member’s misconduct and willful neglect of duty. Member removed from board.
Additionally, The Baltimore Post discovered last year that an attorney for Baltimore County Public Schools made a plan to shred nearly 2,600 financial disclosure statements in February 2018, within a few weeks after the system’s former superintendent, Dallas Dance, was indicted on January 23, 2018 for lying on his own financial disclosure statements, records show.
The documents were purged using an approved 4-year document retention policy, but 2,400 of the roughly 16-page statements that were older than four years were destroyed for the first time in the district’s 21-year recorded history, one day before Dance surrendered to a Virginia jail for his crime, and during ongoing deliberations about the scope of a widely requested procurement audit of the school system. The attorney said that the documents were destroyed in order to make space in her office.
Proponents of Hogan’s bill say improvement is needed in ensuring that school systems are investigated and held accountable. And an IG, they say, could investigate claims that even Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt says he is limited from performing.
“Basically, we have to sit on that information. It’s not something I can feed to the public or to anybody…I’m bound to either bring charges or keep it to myself,” Davitt said.
Davitt, who successfully prosecuted the perjury case against former Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, did not testify in favor or opposition of the bill, but was asked to speak to the bill for informational purposes only.
“By prosecutorial ethics, I can’t subpoena records to find out information…about what might be going on somewhere, and disclose it unless it is there on an indictment,” Davitt said. “… Basically, we have to sit on that information. It’s not something I can feed to the public or to anybody…I’m bound to either bring charges or keep it to myself. So, when it comes to a criminal case…we have been able to, within the limits of a small office that centers mainly on political corruption cases, we have been successful in bringing some good cases.. But that’s where our limitation is: It’s either a criminal charge or nothing,” Davitt said.
“We have newspaper journalists doing our investigations for us,” Krupiarz said.
Barb Krupiarz, the deputy director of the Office of Education Accountability (OEA), testified in favor the bill, and specifically the IG. Krupiarz works in a new office created by executive order as part of Gov. Hogan’s push for education accountability. And she said, while the office has been busy at work, it lacks an investigative capacity which would be solved by the addition of the IG. “We have newspaper journalists doing our investigations for us. I think we’re behind the eight ball. We don’t have an independent agency that is able to do that,” Krupiarz said.
In September, while naming Baltimore City, Baltimore, Washington, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Gov. Hogan signed an executive order creating the OEA, which he called a “watchdog unit” responsible for overseeing Maryland’s local school districts to ensure that they have proper oversight.
Hogan named Valerie Radomsky as OEA director. Radomsky is a former Baltimore County high school teacher who had also previously worked in the Hogan administration as the coordinator of Board of Public Works since 2016.
Radomsky has been acting as a liaison between the state and local boards of education and Maryland’s concerned citizens since September. In the five short months since Hogan created the office, Radomsky has fielded roughly 340 complaints from whistleblowers, parents and advocacy groups.
During her testimony in favor of the bill, Radomsky said it would afford “Maryland the opportunity to show that we take allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and criminal conduct in Maryland school systems seriously, and understand the need to restore and maintain the transparency, integrity, and accountability that Maryland parents, teachers, and students deserve.”
Parents of special education children from across the state also spoke in support of the bill.
Parent and advocate, Sarah Davis, who also founded a special education advocacy organization called Parent Advocacy Consortium, told legislators, “The accountability systems in place to protect our most vulnerable citizens are broken…” Davis said “There is a fundamental unfairness to a system where parents without economic means are precluded from accessing equitable accountability systems. We urge you to right this wrong.”
Last year, a similar bill failed to gain the support of the state’s legislators. Hogan introduced the Accountability in Education Act of 2018, but it was shot down by the majority of legislators.
If passed, a committee whose nine members will be chosen by Gov. Hogan (R) and the House and Senate presidents (D), will select the new IG.
Of the past failure of legislators to pass the 2018 legislation, Hogan said at September’s press conference in which he introduced this year’s bill, “legislators decided that there would be no real accountability at all.”
Hogan said this year legislators may now feel the pressure to respond.
A hearing for the bill is scheduled in the House Ways & Means Committee on March 7th.