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City school woes likely start with lack of transparent oversight

Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin tweeted a video from a Baltimore school building and became a prominent figure in the drama over heating malfunctions and other poor conditions at many city schools. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun video)

The demise of effective procurement responsibility in Baltimore City Public Schools likely began in 1997 when the city, in exchange for increased state funding, ceded partial control to the state for the appointment of school board members (“Heated words over freezing schools in Baltimore: What’s true?” Jan. 15) For its response to the state’s “takeover,” the city essentially placed the school system on a complaint-only response system. Every mayor since then has erroneously asserted a lack of control over the system, notwithstanding the fact the school CEO is a mayoral cabinet member.

The “control” that Mayor Catherine Pugh is now exercising over the heating debacle corrective process could have been taken by her predecessors and should be continued by her even after the current situation is resolved. The inefficient or non-use of state school repair and maintenance resources occurred largely as a result the near complete lack of transparency of the school procurement system as a whole. Understandably, the issues that receive public scrutiny are those relating to instruction and classroom activities. For the most part the school board simply rubber stamps staff recommendations. The board rarely, if ever, initiates any investigation or evaluation of procurement policies and practices.

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In recent times, the board has engaged the services of a procurement adviser of sorts who reports solely to it. However, even that process operates outside of public view. Contrast the school board contract award process with that of the city of Baltimore, where the Board of Estimates regularly considers bid protests and awards contract award in plain view. The school board could enter a memorandum of understanding with the city similar to that it has with the Maryland Stadium Authority whereby it permits the more experienced to oversee school building maintenance and repairs.

My guess is that the city would never have to return $66 million to the state because it couldn’t get the work under contract fast enough.

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Robert Fulton Dashiell, Pikesville

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