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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball requests performance audit of the school system

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball is calling for a performance audit of the school system two weeks after the Board of Education adopted its $894.2 million operating budget.

Ball said he pre-filed a resolution with the County Council asking for an audit to be completed by the Maryland State Department of Education.

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“I believe that every educator, student, parent, and resident in Howard County deserves to know exactly how and where our money is being spent,” Ball said in a statement on June. 20.

If the request is approved by the County Council, the information found from the audit would help the county to “budget smarter in the next year, five years, and 10 years down the road,” Ball said.

Earlier this month, the school board adopted its fiscal 2020 $894.2 million operating budget, $54.6 million capital budget, $654.6 million capital improvement program for 2021-25, and the 2020-29 $1.12 billion long-range master plan budget.

Brian Bassett, a schools spokesman, said in an email “since Dr. [Michael] Martirano's arrival as superintendent, we have made transparency a top priority.”

“We look forward to working with the county over the next few months as the county executive and superintendent lead a community discussion on how to meet the growing needs of our system to fully support our students and the staff who take care of our students.”

A state audit would “further validate” work being done by the school system, such as building on internal and external audits, Bassett said.

The Howard school board is still evaluating Ball’s request, according to school board Vice Chairwoman Kirsten Coombs.

In mid-May, Ball addressed questions about his proposed budget for Howard County schools in a Facebook post. He said in the post that the county would have to either raise taxes or eliminate another department’s budget entirely to meet the school system’s budget request.

In 2016, when he was the County Council chairman, Ball filed legislation to audit the school system and create a budget review committee. Both actions were unanimously passed by the council.

In an interview on Friday, Ball said the 2016 audit was beneficial. The establishment of the Operating Budget Review Committee “has been very helpful in engaging citizens ... getting us to think about issues at a level of detail,” and ensuring transparency, he said.

A new audit would cover: legal fees and payments to and the use of outside counsel; administration staffing levels and salaries; vendor payments and invoices; procurement process and outsourced activities, according to Ball’s request.

“This state-level audit will help us all get the full picture of our school system spending,” Ball said in a statement. “It will promote accountability and ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent sensibly to make our schools the very best they can be, for every student.”

A state department of education spokeswoman declined to comment.

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