- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

Democratic state senators are preparing legislation that would require Maryland school districts to account more fully for the funds they spend.

The legislation comes as Maryland taxpayers are being asked to lend $42 million to the mismanaged Baltimore public school system.

“Given what we’ve seen in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County, this could happen anywhere, these deficits. There has to be much tighter fiscal control,” said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery County Democrat. “We’re sending over $3 billion to the counties. It’s worth the investment to make sure it’s being spent correctly.”

Mr. Hogan is co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s County Democrat, that would require all school systems to submit quarterly financial reports. In addition, state auditors would conduct annual audits of school systems’ books.

Under the legislation, school systems that fail to comply could lose funds, said Mr. Hogan, who will submit his bill before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Robert Neall, the special adviser for Baltimore public schools, submitted a report Friday to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that he said was an attempt to “fully explain the financial condition of the Baltimore school system.”

Mr. Neall said the report would “provide justification for the [$42 million] loan which Gov. Ehrlich graciously offered this week.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, was out of town Friday, and Mr. Neall submitted the report to Budget Secretary James “Chip” DiPaula.

The city of Baltimore and the Abell Foundation have each offered an $8 million loan to help keep the school system afloat.

The school system has incurred a $58 million deficit through fiscal mismanagement that is being investigated by state authorities. A three-member panel — a retired judge and two lawyers — is combing through the system’s financial reports and contracts, said Bill Reinhart, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The panel is scheduled to release its findings May 15 and will offer any determination of criminal misconduct to the state attorney general.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is drafting special legislation that would allow the state to intervene if a school system’s deficit exceeds 1.5 percent of its budget. Administrators would have to prepare an action plan and submit to audits or lose state funds.

Area school officials questioned the wisdom of withholding funds from financially strapped school systems.

“Any time you take away funding from the school system, that makes no sense at all to me,” said Dean Sirjue, a member of the Prince George’s County school board.

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