- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Baltimore’s long-suffering public schools continue to waste money and lack financial controls, according to a state audit released yesterday.

The stinging report from the Office of Legislative Audits is the latest black eye for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat with gubernatorial ambitions who is struggling to address a police corruption scandal.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, the mayor’s chief Democratic rival in the race for governor, said yesterday that the audit was more evidence of problems in his opponent’s back yard.

Mr. Duncan said the audit contradicts the mayor’s campaign slogan: “Leadership that works for Maryland.”

“You have to ask why the people of Maryland would believe his style of leadership would work for them when the record shows it hasn’t worked for the Baltimore school system,” Mr. Duncan said. “We’re sure Martin O’Malley will have a list of people to blame, but the buck stops with the mayor, and the facts speak for themselves.”

The O’Malley campaign did not return calls.

Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s Democrat and Mr. O’Malley’s running mate, declined to comment on what he called “city issues.”

The mayor’s supporters dismissed the audit of Baltimore schools, which have an annual budget of about $1 billion and the state’s fourth largest student population.

“That’s nothing new,” said Delegate Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat. “That’s something the mayor has said we have to get a handle on.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said the audit also reflected badly on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. , a Republican seeking re-election.

“Why wouldn’t it hurt Ehrlich for not addressing it?” Mr. Busch said.

Mr. Ehrlich noted that the mayor edged him out of the school system’s budget process in 2004, when Mr. O’Malley rejected the governor’s offer to bail out the near-bankrupt schools, which were on the verge of bouncing teachers’ paychecks.

“This hurts our kids,” Mr. Ehrlich said of the mismanaged city schools. “This is disgraceful.”

The audit found deficiencies in “virtually every financial management area reviewed,” including “significant problems” in oversight of procurement, facilities, inventory control, transportation services and payroll.

The problems ranged from lack of documentation of $25 million in purchases in 2004 to paying a taxicab company $2.4 million — double the contracted rate — to transport students.

The audit follows the indictment earlier this month of three Baltimore police officers on rape charges. One of the officers is accused of having sex with a woman at a police station in exchange for her release from custody.

The other two officers were charged as accomplices.

The school system was faulted in the audit for responding too slowly to declining student enrollment, which, the report said, is one of the most pressing issues facing the schools.

State law requires the office to audit each of the 24 public school systems in Maryland.

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