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Olszewski Will Ask Legislature For More Oversight of Baltimore County Schools

Baltimore County

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski wants the county’s inspector general to have oversight authority of the county school system.

Olszewski wants the General Assembly to give the county’s inspector general the authority to root out fraud, waste and abuse in the school system, saying adequate oversight does not exist.

“That office currently has oversight of general government agencies and functions and not the school system, which accounts for half of the Baltimore County budget,” Olszewski said

This year the county approved more than $1.8 billion for the school system.

The state has an inspector general for education who is responsible for local school systems throughout Maryland. Olszewski said that’s not enough. He said the county needs to have oversight as well.

“I think this is a natural next step.” Olszewski said. “I think it makes us a leader in the state of Maryland and it will be a model that other local jurisdictions will seek to replicate.”

A school system spokesman said In a statement that BCPS takes seriously its obligation to use tax money responsibly and judiciously.  He said the system has an independent Office of Internal Audit that monitors operations and investigates any allegations of fraud, waste and abuse. 

Olszewski’s proposal to expand the county inspector general’s authority follows his criticism that the school system is not communicating enough about the November 24 ransomware attack. He said the two are not connected.

But the proponent of another proposal for more county control doesn’t mince words about that.

“This whole thing blew up because of the ransomware attack,” said Republican State Sen. Chris West.

He said he is frustrated that the school system isn’t being transparent about the cyberattack.

West said he will propose legislation in the General Assembly that would allow the county executive and county council to attach strings to some of the money they send to the school system. He said they currently have no control over how the school system spends the county money it gets.

“What this would permit the county executive and county council to do is to fence off some money, say you can only spend this money if you spend it subject to the following conditions,” West said.

Republican Councilman David Marks, who supports West’s proposal, calls the school system’s lack of communication deplorable. Marks said if the legislation passes, county officials could force the school system to be more open.

“The school system is not required to tell us what happened with public money,” Marks said. “So you could have a condition in the next budget that requires them to provide a report to us detailing what happened with the ransomware attack.”

Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams said he cannot go into details about the attack because of the ongoing criminal investigation. County Council Chairman Julian Jones said that puts Williams in a difficult position.

“If his instructions were not to talk, then that’s basically what he had to do,” Jones said.

Jones said he understands the frustration of those who want more control over the schools, but he is not ready to support West’s legislation.

“One of the benefits of the way it is now is to keep our education system removed from politics so I’m not sure it is a good idea for us to have so much more control,” Jones said.

Roger Hartley, the Dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore said the advantage of more county control is giving political leaders a say on how school money is spent.

“The weakness to that is that if you go too far, then there’s not enough flexibility for a really smart, expert leader to put the money where it’s needed the most,” Hartley said.

Both West’s and Olszewski’s proposals will need the support of the county’s legislative delegation to have a chance of getting through the legislature.

Olszewski’s inspector general proposal is part of his legislative agenda for the county which he plans to unveil next week. The 2021 General Assembly convenes January 13.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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