Carroll commissioners hire outside auditor for schools; KPMG LLP to review construction, 5 other programs in system


Facing accusations of mismanagement in its construction department, the Carroll County school system will soon be subjected to a three-year audit by outside consultants, a review of its performance that county officials say is long overdue.

The county commissioners agreed yesterday to pay the consulting firm of KPMG LLP $528,500 over the next three years to evaluate schools.

In the first year, beginning Monday, KPMG plans to review school construction and five other programs: special education, information technology, instructional technology, food services, and the department that helps administrators analyze test scores.

"This is something the school system should have been doing all along," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said of the systemwide audit. "The [construction] problems that were uncovered only highlighted that fact. School officials were not keeping the Board of County Commissioners informed as much as they should have."

The commissioners last year withheld $1 million from the school system to force the Board of Education to agree to the audit. A 10-member committee of school administrators, business people and one parent took responsibility for overseeing the audit after two school construction projects became the subject of lawsuits.

"I think the performance audit will be good, in that it will bring out a lot of the positives that the school system already has in place," said Jean Wasmer, president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs and a member of the oversight committee. "Construction is only a small piece of the picture."

The school system has been embroiled in legal problems for much of the past year.

In May, State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes convened a grand jury to investigate alleged mismanagement of school construction programs.

In December, the school board hired former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett to conduct an independent investigation of the problems. Last week, the board released Bennett's report, which described "consistent failures" in the management of construction projects.

The five-member school board has responded by asking Superintendent William H. Hyde to present an "action plan" next week for reforming the construction department.

School board President C. Scott Stone said he would ask members of the board whether they wanted to discuss Hyde's role in the construction problems and his job status.

Hyde could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Stone said he is pleased the audit will finally be under way. The Philadelphia office of KPMG, one of three companies to compete for the audit contract, submitted the highest bid. The Baltimore office of Arthur Andersen LLP bid $495,000. Public Financial Management Inc. of Philadelphia bid $445,500.

The 10-member audit committee voted unanimously in favor of KPMG, finding it to be the best-qualified company for the job.

The audit committee plans to send the consultant's report to the commissioners and the Board of Education before making it public.

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