School audit gives ideas on crowding

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school system should address overcrowding and limit the need for new construction by considering options such as using schools that are under capacity, moving individual grades from one school to another and redrawing attendance boundaries, according to a state audit released yesterday.

The county school system "has not widely employed any of these alternatives," the legislative audit stated. It contained 18 recommendations, touching on issues such as food services, the use of buses and oversight of payroll and information systems.

Parents recently called for relief at crowded Towson-area elementary schools, a push that eventually led the Board of Education to decide to have a new school built.

The district said it agreed with the audit's recommendations on facilities and construction. A study was done to address overcapacity schools in the southeast area and find strategies, both short- and long-term, to resolve the matter, according to a written response to the audit. In addition, a boundary change committee was started this school year to balance enrollment between two elementary schools in that region, according to the response and Michele O. Prumo, executive director of the planning and support operations department.

"We always try to do what's least disruptive to the educational process," Prumo said. So school officials have looked at shifting programs - such as English for Speakers of Other Languages in one of the geographic areas - instead of entire grade levels, she said.

Along with the recommendations, the report indicated that the school system "had procedures and controls in place to ensure the safeguarding of assets and the efficient use of financial resources."

Deputy Superintendent J. Robert Haines said the report compliments the school system on "many best practices."

"The recommendations are recommendations for improved performance," Haines said. "So you have to look at them and analyze them ... then you have to figure out what parts of them you can incorporate."

The audit noted the system's development of an energy-conservation program and additional efforts to keep energy costs in check.

While commending the district's use of an automated work-order system for tracking maintenance requests, the report suggested taking action to cut down the backlog of work orders. The district stated in its written response that it had conducted its own study looking at backlog and sought to respond by augmenting maintenance and construction programs. Superintendent Joe A. Hairston secured more funds to "increase staffing, supplies, and outsourcing activities," according to the response.

"Obviously backlog is something that we're continuing to work through," Haines said.

The report was performed to comply with a state law that requires such a review of all 24 school systems over a six-year period. The county's review follows others in Baltimore City and in Carroll, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

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