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Howard school 'oversight' measures on budget, air quality move forward

Mold review, budget oversight measures move forward.

The Howard County Council unanimously passed measures Friday to audit education spending and create a school budget review committee in order to encourage what County Council Chairman Calvin Ball said was more transparency and accountability into the school system's budget.

The creation of the committee follows a contentious budget season when the council passed an $808 million budget for the school system — $18 million more than what the school system received last year, but $50 million less than what the school board requested.

The committee, which includes representation from the council, the county executive and community groups, will analyze the school system's budget and review audits of the school system for at least fiscal years 2014 through 2017.

Board of Education Chairwoman Christine O'Connor who in May called the measures an "attempt to undermine the independence of the board and politicize education as never before," said her concerns were alleviated after she discussed the measures face-to-face with Ball.

"I'm happy we're collaborating with our County Council and can help people better understand our budget," O'Connor said Friday. "We worked together and gave each other all the facts."

Ball said he hopes the measures add "clarity" and put into place "a better process throughout the year."

The committee, which will end in July 2017, will also review plans for new school sites, proposed transfers between different categories of the budget and recommend improvements to the next fiscal year's budget. The county's auditor will also complete a financial audit of the school system.

A separate move by the Kittleman administration to hire an independent contractor to conduct air quality assessments of 12 Howard County schools also has gained traction. Kittleman signed a one-year agreement with the board in April in an effort to address what he said was constituents' widespread distrust in the county's school system and its hired consultants.

The contractor has completed testing of all 12 schools, according to John White, the school system's spokesman. Schools selected for testing include Glenwood Middle, Talbott Springs Elementary, St. Johns Elementary, Centennial Elementary, Pointers Run Elementary, Mount View Middle, Laurel Woods Elementary, Glenelg High, Lisbon Elementary, Elkridge Elementary, Rockburn Elementary and Wilde Lake High.

The administration expects results in late July, according to Andy Barth, the county's press secretary.

Other votes

At its meeting on Friday, the council also unanimously passed a measure that allows the administration to pursue a special state designation for Long Reach Village Center to breathe new life into one of Columbia's oldest and largest centers.

The designation, Sustainable Communities, opens up opportunities for grants and tax credits to support revitalization efforts. The passage comes as the council considers a measure by the administration to sell the center, which is considered a blight area.

The council also passed measures to create two permanent county commissions: The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and the Commission for Transitioning Students with Disabilities.

Despite the Kittleman administration's push to repeal the county's stormwater fee — which was rejected by a 4-1 council vote earlier in the year —the council also passed the upcoming year's stormwater management fee for the county.

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