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School inspection reports falling behind, audit finds

Nicole Price, 21st Century Schools

  Maintenance inspections at public schools around the state tell local school authorities if there are issues affecting the health or safety of students and staff. But a state audit released Wednesday found that hundreds of these inspection reports hadn’t reached school officials more than a year after the inspections were completed.

Nearly 500 inspections completed in the last three fiscal years were not given to local school leaders by December 31, 2015, the audit found. Among them, 25 schools in three school systems were found to have inadequate conditions.

A finding of “not adequate” indicates something that could become a safety or health hazard if not addressed, according to David Lever, executive director of the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction, which oversees the inspections.

“Perhaps an example would be that you have concrete steps leading out the back of a school … and the concrete is starting to break up,” he said. “Under winter weather conditions, that concrete can really deteriorate very, very fast.”

Lever said the majority of the inspections examined have been submitted to local school leaders since the audit. However, inspections completed last fiscal year have yet to be sent, including about 30 inspections of Baltimore City Public Schools.

Inspections completed this fiscal year, which ends June 30, have been added to the backlog.

Auditor Tom Barnickel said every school is inspected once every six years. The problem is that inspection reports are falling behind.

“When you notify the local superintendent, then you put them on notice that they need to correct these problems,” he said. “If I’m not getting a formal report from my inspection group then there’s no expectation or at least there’s no level of accountability there that says I have to immediately jump on this.”

Lever said the backlog is a result of being short-staffed. He asked the IAC to temporarily reduce the number of inspections his office is required to perform for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The IAC has not yet made a decision on that request.

Rachel Baye is a reporter for WYPR's newsroom.
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