Closer scrutiny sought on School for the Blind Legislators criticize Md. education department, demand financial details


In sometimes stinging tones, legislators yesterday called for closer state scrutiny of the $10 million allocated annually to the Maryland School for the Blind.

"It's very clear that the Maryland State Department of Education has not done a good job watching the financial and program operations at the school," said state Sen. Patrick Hogan, a Montgomery County Republican.

"When you receive 80 percent of your operating funds from taxpayers, we in the legislature have every right to know the details of how that money is spent."

During a two-hour hearing in Annapolis, the Joint Budget and Audit Committee examined the relationship between the Overlea school and the department, which is supposed to provide oversight of the school's spending.

Officials at the 191-student school said changes recommended by the agency have been implemented. Agency officials said they have tightened oversight. And several parents praised the teachers and administration.

Harvey Hammer, president of the Parents, Teachers and Students organization, said, "My son has received phenomenal care from the teachers at the school."

But one parent, Libby Paul of Rockville, told of two letters she wrote to the governor about conditions at the school.

She said carpets were sticking out from the floor in one building and a kiln in a craft shop was not protected by a screen.

"There was also a can crushing machine used by my son and other students and often the cans flew out at them," she said. " they could not see; they were not wearing safety glasses."

Louis M. Tutt, the school's president, testified that the carpeting and other problems have been corrected.

School officials have been criticized for firing five popular program directors and other employees last year in a restructuring.

And an audit released in August by the education department criticized school officials for trying to pay $31,600 in bonuses and $260,000 in severances with state money. The school has repaid the state the $31,600 and was ordered by the state superintendent to take severance money from its $1.1 million endowment.

State Sen. Thomas Bromwell, an 8th District Democrat, said that he has spoken with parents and many current and former employees at the school, part of which is in his district. Most of the school's 96 acres are in Baltimore.

"There is a real morale problem at the Maryland School for the Blind," Mr. Bromwell said, then addressed Mr. Tutt and Harry Wright, chairman of the board of directors.

"It's imperative that the administration, you, resolve that problem and the perception that things are out of whack. We all owe it to the kids. Your feet have not been held close enough to the fire."

The officials nodded in agreement.

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