Thornton looking at money-saving measures

Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton said Wednesday that he is in the early stages of assessing where the central office can be more efficient and already cut back on two expenditures criticized during the previous administration.

During a meeting with The Baltimore Sun's editorial board, Thornton said he will not employ a full-time driver, a job that has paid six-figure wages to a police sergeant for several years because of overtime. Thornton has also directed that limits be placed on how much is spent on food for professional development events and other meetings.

"Less is more for me," Thornton said. "We want to set some limits and create some different expectations."

The two expenses have cost city taxpayers more than $1 million in recent years and drawn stark criticism for wasteful spending in one of the state's most cash-strapped school districts.

Shanaysha Sauls, chairwoman of the city school board, called Thornton "conservative" in his approach to spending on nonessential items.

The previous administration came under fire after The Sun found that former schools CEO Andrés Alonso's driver doubled his salary in overtime in 2011 and was making about $154,000 — more than Gov. Martin O'Malley.

According to recent salary records obtained by The Sun, the driver — who retired in June — continued to make six figures: $156,751 in 2012 and $146,872 in 2013.

Thornton said his decision to be transported around the city would be "situational" and depend on the circumstances of the traveling he would be required to do.

Additionally, taxpayers will no longer foot the bill for large catered meals. Last year, a Sun investigation found that the school district racked up $1 million in food bills between 2010 and 2012.

A review of catering charges on administrative accounts at central headquarters showed a range of spending and menus, from $9.24 for cookies and juice for the CEO's office to a $7,170 professional development lunch for 600 educators that featured a menu of chicken cacciatore, baked ziti and beef brisket barbecue.

Some menus included more lavish items such as eggs Benedict or a French-toast buffet for breakfast, crab cakes or beef Wellington for lunch, and chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert.

Thornton, who took the district's helm July 1, said he plans to seek outside advice about possibly reorganizing the central office.

He said he is looking to bring more revenue to the school district to expand and create academic programs and that being good stewards of taxpayer funds will be critical to that goal.

"I can't ask for additional money if I'm not using the money I have in an efficient way," he said.

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