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School board ducks its role in fiscal oversight [Letter]

Once again, the Baltimore City Public Schools are facing a multi-million dollar budget shortfall ("Seeing red over city schools budget," April 15). Unfortunately, this is not a new occurrence, but what is stunning to me this time is the reaction of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners.

The commissioners express surprise and "wonder" that the system got to this point. Let's consider some of the items that caused this surprise — grant funds that always have expiration dates, the highly-touted new facilities plan that will require at least $20 million per year for the foreseeable future and the new teacher evaluation system which calls for an unknowable expenditures for teacher performance. And these are only a few budgetary red flags that don't require a rocket science degree to recognize.

Board approval is required for accepting grants, for capital improvements and for teacher contracts.

One board member claims he was not given a full picture of certain financial implications. Whose fault is that? What kinds of probing questions did commissioners ask of staff and what did they do to verify the answers they received?

The board apparently will wait for the new CEO, Gregory Thornton, to establish his own best financial practices, not wanting to overhaul budgeting "in a transition year." We can wish Mr. Thornton well. However, if the board does not take its own fiduciary responsibility seriously, little may change.

Sandra L. Wighton, Baltimore

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