School board on the hot seat; Carroll grand jury: Probe is latest reason county should have larger role in school construction.


IN CARROLL COUNTY, where a grand jury is investigating the school board, there's scant whisper of criminal misconduct floating about the secret deliberations. But there's no secret what the inquiry is about: the costly, mismanaged, delayed school construction and renovation projects in the county in recent years.

Stephen D. Powell, the county budget director, is the only official so far to admit he testified (twice) before the 23-member panel.

Carroll isn't the only school system in Maryland to have botched school construction projects, far from it. But its stumbles have been spectacular, provoking million-dollar lawsuits and a state-ordered shutdown of an illegal sewage treatment plant at one school. Cost overruns and deficient pre-construction engineering have added to taxpayer burdens.

The grand jury does not have to return a criminal indictment. It can issue a report about a subject of civic concern. This could be significant for the future management of school construction in Carroll County.

Most of the public information on the repeated missteps by school administrators and the school board has come from the news media. The school system has adopted a heads-down approach to criticism, usually offering the excuse that pending lawsuits make it improper to say anything. This school board is too acquiescent to the administration, which has become an inbred institution at top management levels. This cozy, quiet relationship has proven again and again to be of questionable public benefit.

One thing the grand jury should do is recommend that the county-government planning staff assume greater responsibility and oversight for school construction projects. The school board may be nominally responsible, but using experienced managers on the county staff would be a step toward restoring confidence in the program.

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