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Facilities failures

The Baltimore Sun

Findings this spring by state inspectors that repairs and maintenance of Baltimore schools have been badly managed expose a level of disrespect for students and teachers that should not be tolerated.

School system officials must be more aggressive in fixing the problems, and Mayor Sheila Dixon's call for an audit of school construction and renovation funds should be conducted as quickly as possible.

In addition to having some of the oldest school buildings in the state, Baltimore has a history of not managing its facilities very well. Capital and maintenance projects often take too long to complete, running up extra costs for overtime and materials. Complaints by principals and conscientious custodians often go unheeded, creating a culture of inaction that has compromised the learning environment and jeopardized the health of students and teachers far too long.

By 2005, increased state oversight and leadership changes in the city school system's facilities team began some needed reforms. Systems similar to CitiStat, used to improve delivery of other city services, were installed at school system headquarters and have been rightly credited with getting more capital and repair projects started and completed in reasonable time.

But a huge problem remains. When routine state inspections of 40 city schools last fall uncovered 585 building deficiencies, school officials assured the state that most of the problems were being fixed. Yet documents obtained by The Sun's Sara Neufeld detailing follow-up inspections by the state of five schools this year showed that more than 60 percent of the repairs that were supposedly made were either unfinished or simply not done.

It's bad enough that many of the alleged repairs had already been paid for. That students and teachers have to endure broken windows, doors that don't close, toilets that aren't anchored to the floor and other indignities shows an intolerable level of disrespect.

This follow-up seems to be only a sampling. Some of the work was done (or not done) by shoddy or unscrupulous contractors, with negligent or worse oversight by school facilities managers.

J. Keith Scroggins, who has been the school system's chief operating officer just under a year, recognizes that accountability matters. He has brought in some new managers and instituted structural reorganizations designed to make it easier for supervisors to oversee the school buildings for which they are responsible. Even state officials acknowledge that city school administrators are taking the right steps to try to solve problems that have festered for years.

But faster action is needed. A thorough audit of spending on school buildings should help speed the process of ensuring that students attend schools that don't compromise their health or their academic progress.

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