Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Thursday joined the chorus of lawmakers criticizing Baltimore City schools for spending stimulus money and dollars designated for poor children on $99-per-person fried chicken dinners, a makeover day and two cruises through the Inner Harbor.
“I supported federal stimulus funding to create jobs by putting more teachers in classrooms and avoiding the layoffs of others -- not for harbor cruises, catered dinners and theater tickets," said Ruppersberger, a Democrat, in a statement. "Funding for some of Baltimore’s neediest children was simply squandered and transparency requirements were completely disregarded. This abuse of tax dollars is one example of why many Americans mistrust government."
Ruppersberger's comments follow a federal audit that found the state may have to return as much as $540,000 that was misspent in Maryland schools. The Prince George's County school system was also criticized in the Office of Inspector General report for buying principals watches -- and velvet pouches to protect the timepieces from scratches -- as well as a $222 pencil sharpener and other purchases.
Republican state lawmakers drew attention to the audit Wednesday, saying it called for more detailed accounting on government spending.
Ruppersberger said Thursday that "Baltimore City schools must immediately comply with the recommendations contained in the audit.”
The audit was issued to the Maryland State Education Department in January, and the school system is responding to the concerns it raised, a department spokesman said.
Other lawmakers said that, for years, state and city leaders have told school officials they need to persuade parents to take a greater involvement in schools. Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said that at first glance, it appears the schools could have been making such investments.
"It's hard for me to defend $99 chicken dinners," McIntosh said, adding, "Getting parents involved in an urban district's education system may involve something that looks more like something a business would spend."