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Baltimore County School Board fires chief auditor

Baltimore County Public Schools administration building.
Kristen Mosbrucker
Baltimore County Public Schools administration building.

The chief auditor of the Baltimore County Public Schools has been fired by the school board in a bizarre vote in which none of the board members actually voted to terminate her.

In a meeting last month, only six of the members voted to retain her while the others abstained or recused themselves. It took seven votes to renew her contract.

The termination of auditor Andrea Barr’s contract ends a 36 year long career.

In 2019, the auditor complained about a hostile work environment created by two board members. In 2020, her office released an internal auditwhich showed school board members misspent taxpayer money and overspent its budget.

The most recent vote ousting her was a parting shot from a school board in which nearly all members are wrapping up their final terms. A consultant has described their operation as “dysfunctional.”

There was no public discussion by the school board before it took the vote that fired Barr. No board members contacted by WYPR would comment. Board chair Julie Henn declined to talk about it because it is a personnel matter.

Barr declined to comment as well.

“I think they’re making a terrible mistake,” said David Uhlfelder, who served on the school board for 10 years and left in 2018. For seven of those years he chaired the board’s audit committee.

Uhlfelder described Barr as “outstanding,” thorough” and “committed.”

“She modernized the department,” Uhlfelder said. “They’ve really lost a key employee.”

When the board voted May 17 on Barr’s contract, members Russ Kuehn and Lily Rowe recused themselves while Kathleen Causey, Lisa Mack and Chair Henn abstained, leaving only six members to vote.

In 2019, Barr filed a harassment and intimidation complaint against Kuehn and Causey, according to sources. At the time, both Kuehn and Causey were on the board’s audit committee.

The alleged harassment led to an April 16, 2019, email obtained by WYPR in which the school system’s general counsel, Margaret-Ann Howie, advised that an audit committee meeting scheduled for that day be canceled “in order to forestall any additional claims.”

Neither Kuehn nor Causey returned requests for comment about the harassment complaint. School officials did not respond when asked how the harassment claim was resolved

The 2020 internal audit found that the board overspent its operating budget in 2019 by more than $63,000. Among other things, it also found legal fees were paid improperly and that board members did not follow procedures for reporting travel expenses.

Causey was the board chair at that time.

According to the county schools’ website, there are 10 people in its Office of Internal Audit, headed by Barr. Its mission is to “provide independent, objective, high quality audit and investigatory services to strengthen the integrity, quality and effectiveness of the school system.”

When the vote was taken on Barr’s contract, there was a vacancy on the 12 member school board. Cheryl Pasteur resigned in February in order to run for a seat in the Maryland General Assembly.

If Pasteur had still been on the board, she said she would have voted to renew Barr’s contract, which would have been the seventh vote she needed to remain employed.

“I feel awful,” Pasteur said. “I would have voted for it and then her contract would have been renewed.”

Pasteur said in past years there had been opposition to renewing Barr’s contract.

“But nothing had ever been said as to why,” Pasteur said.

As for the vote that terminated Barr’s contract, Pasteur said, “I find it unsettling that someone could lose her job and no one said ‘no.’”

Barr’s last day is June 30.

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