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Baltimore County Executive Olszewski wants school board audit released to the public ... and to him

The Baltimore County school board recently turned down County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s request for a copy of an audit of county school finances and contracts.

Amid questions about technology contracting and ethical issues last year, state legislators and the county council demanded the audit, which the school board subsequently ordered. A draft of that audit was delivered to the school board chair Jan. 18.

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Saying he hopes the school board makes the audit public soon, Olszewski is pointing to the board’s unwillingness to share it with him and its lack of transparency to bolster his argument that the county executive should have more authority over the board.

“There is a growing argument to be made that we should have some additional oversight of the system,” he said in a statement.

After the conviction of former Superintendent Dallas Dance for lying about part-time consulting work, the school board hired UHY, a national accounting firm with offices in Columbia, to conduct a comprehensive audit. The audit was to cover a variety of issues, but particularly technology contracts during Dance’s term from 2012 to 2017.

In a statement Monday, Olszewski said he had requested a copy of the audit and “our request was denied. We do hope that the board makes this information available to us and the public as soon as possible.”

County Councilman Julian Jones said he was considering asking the County Council to write to the school board requesting the audit be made public.

“It is shameful that it has not been released yet,” he said. “There is no reason for it. None.”

A draft of the audit was turned over to school board chair Kathleen Causey and a small, ad hoc committee she created Jan. 18. The auditor was to hand in a revised draft and then a final version in the coming months.

Because Causey had not shared the draft audit with the rest of the board, board member Moalie Jose made a motion in open session Feb. 19 calling for the audit to be shared with the full board.

“In order to be a fully transparent board,” Jose said, the audit should be presented to the full board.

Causey called the motion inappropriate because the audit was “an internal working document that is being modified.”

She said the board could go to a room and view the document but that it was not available in digital form.

“To say that an audit report is something board members can’t look at unless you go to a little secluded room across the way … it is farcical,” said board member Roger Hayden, who had not seen the audit.

The board voted seven to five at the meeting to have a paper copy of the draft audit given to each board member at the next closed-door session. All the members of the ad hoc audit committee — Russ Kuehn, Causey, Julie Henn and Lisa Mack — voted against making it available to the full board.

The Baltimore Sun requested a copy of the draft audit Feb. 15 through the Maryland Public Information Act. The school board responded Feb. 21, saying that the audit was not finalized, and therefore, could not be made public.

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Causey, who as chair speaks for the board, did not respond to a request for comment.

Before he left the system, Dance had traveled widely at taxpayer expense to conferences, some of which involved education technology companies. At the time, the school system was negotiating contracts with technology companies to buy millions of dollars in software.

Dance was indicted and convicted on four counts of perjury for failing to disclose that he had been paid for consulting work, including work for a company that the school system awarded a no-bid contract to train principals.

After his indictment, county leaders were concerned that some of the contracts that had been signed while he was superintendent might not have been done in accordance with the school system’s policies.

While running for county executive, Olszewski advocated for a review of the system’s ethics rules and procurement policies. He also said he believed the county auditor’s office should have authority to investigate issues in county government and the school system.

The need for an audit also came up during the search for a new superintendent. The school board in place last spring voted to make Interim Superintendent Verletta White the permanent choice for superintendent.

But their choice was blocked by Maryland State School Superintendent Karen Salmon, who noted that the audit had not been completed. White, who worked for Dance, also had incorrectly filed her financial disclosure report. Salmon said she was concerned about that ethical lapse and wanted to see what the results of the audit would show.

The current board recently started a search for a new superintendent.

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