The Baltimore County school board promised Wednesday to release a comprehensive audit of its contracts and finances within weeks after growing criticism that it was keeping a draft audit secret for months.
The board announced in a news release that it would release the audit in “upcoming weeks — not months.” School board chair Kathleen Causey said in a statement that accountability and transparency are important but that at times “there are legal constraints to transparency.”
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. criticized the board Monday for failing to turn over the draft to the public. In a statement, Causey acknowledged that there was interest in the audit, and that there was urgency in releasing a copy because of an ongoing search for a school superintendent and the proposed operating budget for the coming year.
“There is also misinformation about the draft audit report, recently received by the Board, causing undue concern in our communities,” she said in the statement.
The board said it believes it is not legally required to release the document because it is not finished and is considered “deliberative,” a category that means it does not have to be publicly released under Maryland law. The Baltimore Sun requested a copy of the draft audit in February. The request was denied.
In addition, the board’s attorney, Andrew Nussbaum, released a statement Wednesday saying the auditing firm UHY was “adamant” that the draft document not be released to the public until it was final.
Nussbaum said in a letter that the auditor was “very concerned that from his professional perspective, as an auditor, releasing an unsigned and non-final draft would be inappropriate and could adversely affect his ability to maintain the independence and objectivity he is required to have as the auditor.”
Olszewski said the board had refused to turn over the draft audit when he requested it more than a month ago. “The county executive values transparency,” spokesman T. J. Smith said. If the document is not legally able to be released as the board claims, Smith said, then “we have to abide by that.” However, he said the county executive thinks the document should be made public.
Greg Hook, Maryland’s legislative auditor, said legislative audits — which are different from the UHY audit — are not released until the government agency that is being audited has had a chance to rebut the findings or explain any problems that have been raised.
The audit was initiated after the conviction of the former superintendent Dallas Dance last year for four counts of perjury for failing to disclose a part-time job he had with a company that had a contract with the school system. State legislators and the County Council called for an expanded audit to ensure that contracts had been properly awarded during Dance’s tenure from 2012 to 2017.
UHY, a national accounting firm with offices in Columbia, began the audit in June 2018 and turned in a draft to a committee of the board Jan. 18. A majority of the board members believed the draft audit was being kept from them because it could be accessed only in a room at the school system headquarters. A majority of the board voted to force the draft report to be presented at a closed-door meeting. Each board member was given a hard copy of the report.
Causey said in the statement that UHY presented the draft report to the full board and the auditors said it was confidential. Causey said the ad hoc audit committee was disbanded by the board, and in the future, the full board, not a committee, will vote on the audit.
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“The second version of the audit report will be presented to school system administrators, Causey said.