The Anne Arundel County school board voted yesterday to conduct a performance audit of the school system, saying it wants to quell concerns that the administrative branch is overstaffed and overpaid.
It will take several months to clarify the goals of the audit and hire an outside consultant at an estimated cost of $500,000, but board members said they hope the inquiry will begin in the summer.
"I'm hoping people will pay attention to [the fact] that we're trying to open up the system and show people what's going on," said board member Konrad M. Wayson, who proposed the audit.
Wayson said he has been troubled that "a lot of people had the perception the school system wasn't efficient, we were top-heavy, [and] not enough money was getting to the schools."
The audit is likely to examine several hundred central office employees, from Superintendent Eric J. Smith to transportation specialists and the resource teachers who provide support to classroom instructors. It is among several actions the school board and Smith have taken to make the financial workings of the school system more public.
Their efforts come as school officials brace for the start of a new round of budget talks with the county, which is strained by a state deficit. County Council members are scrutinizing funding requests and recently criticized the school board for giving 1 percent salary raises to top administrators.
The board received a report yesterday on how the salaries of top administrators have changed in recent years. Board member Michael J. McNelly said he requested the information because he felt that the salaries of Smith and other central office employees who earn more than $60,000 a year should be "upfront, out for the public to see."
Smith, whose annual salary is nearly $200,000, said he welcomes McNelly's inquiry and the audit. "They're all legitimate questions," he said. "The board is working hard ... to be financially responsible."
Smith has taken steps to involve parents and business leaders in the school system's budget process. Yesterday, the board heard a progress report from a community task force established by the superintendent in the fall to examine the district's funding and expenditures, and recommend improvements.
Smith expressed confidence that the results of the audit will help put criticisms to rest. "We're very modestly staffed, in my view, to the point that it inhibits the kind of work we need to do," Smith said during a break in the board meeting.
Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, one of the first officials to raise questions about the school administrators' raises, said he is looking forward to the audit. "I think there's a lot of questions, and have been for years, of how the money is being spent," he said.
The school system has performed audits of its human resources, special education, and gifted and talented departments. The cost of the administrative audit will not be known until the board determines the audit's scope and solicits bids from consultants.
In other business, the board voted to review its policy regarding how it approves pay raises for non-union employees. The board has been criticized by council members for privately giving the raises to Smith and his senior staff last month, drawing complaints that it ran afoul of state sunshine laws.
Board President Paul G. Rudolph has said he will suggest a policy that the board vote in public on such salary matters.