The Baltimore school board has approved a policy that requires district employees to report any financial wrongdoing or improper conduct they see in the school system, while protecting whistleblowers from retaliation.
The policy, approved by the board this month, clarifies a district employee’s duty to report if they see someone wasting money or participating in bribery or embezzlement or some other financial impropriety. Employees are required to report if they know of someone tampering with or forging documents.
“We want to ensure that if there is anything happening that’s wrong in the district we can rely on whistleblowers to raise it up and make sure others know,” said Jeremy Grant-Skinner, chief human capital officer for the district.
The regulations come weeks after Gov. Larry Hogan slammed the city school system for mismanagement. In January, he proposed appointing a new investigator general to look into what he described as corruption and ineptitude in some Maryland school districts.
Grant-Skinner said discussions about the city’s new policy have been going on for a year, and are based “on our independent belief that we should make explicit our employees’ duties and protections.”
The requirement for a district employee to report wrongdoing — and their protection for doing so — hadn’t been codified before in any city schools policy.
“This wasn’t driven by anything that’s otherwise out there in the news or any insinuations being made about city schools,” Skinner said.
Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said the new policy arrives at the right time. She cited the recent sentencing of a former Baltimore principal to three months in prison for stealing money from a school bank account.
The principal, Leslie N. Lewis, 45, was the third city principal convicted of stealing from student activity funds since 2013.
“In light of some of the things that have happened, this was something the district needed to do,” English said.
The policy requires the office of the schools CEO to produce an annual report outlining all allegations and any disciplinary actions taken.
“City schools management has the responsibility to investigate and correct all financial impropriety and improper conduct,” Jerome Jones, director of labor relations and negotiations, said during a recent school board meeting.
City Councilman John T. Bullock, a member of the council’s education committee, called the policy a positive step toward transparency. He said he’ll be interested in monitoring the annual reports to the school board.
“We want to make sure all resources are going toward student learning or school opportunities,” he said. “This is a good mechanism to have in place to ensure there’s no waste, fraud or abuse.”
Under the policy, school employees can report directly to their supervisor or use a Fraud Hotline set up by the district. The office of staff investigations will look into the complaint and file a report to the legal office. Should the allegations be substantiated, the district will hold a hearing and consider disciplinary action.
The policy aligns city schools with the Public School Employee Whistleblower Protection Act, which went into effect in October. The law is aimed at protecting employees from retaliation if they report on their supervisors for misconduct.
The city policy commits the human capital office to reassigning a whistleblower should the whistleblower request it.
Jimmy Gittings, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, said the staff investigations office must be careful when looking into allegations reported to them. He said he is concerned school employees will, under this policy, lash out at their principals or assistant principals.
“We have a number of individuals in the system who make false allegations,” he said. “This policy may encourage other individuals to make possibly false allegations, especially when there’s a revenge issue.”
The district policy emphasizes that any employee who intentionally files a false report alleging misconduct will be subject to discipline.