County Executive Calls Transparency Biggest School Problem
For years, Baltimore County Public Schools has developed a reputation for operating behind closed doors, where taxpayers and parents have to fight for information.
But newly elected Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski is determined to change that.
Olszewski campaigned on education. He made it the top issue on his website.
“It touches everything that we do. It affects our public safety issues. It helps prevent people getting into the pipeline, it helps avoid the prison pipeline. It makes sure that people can earn good salaries and be successful. It adds to the home values of our communities,” Olszewski tells Project Baltimore.
But in the last year, County Schools has struggled with a failure in leadership. In April, former superintendent Dallas Dance was sentenced to six months in jail for perjury for lying about income related to consultant work. The interim superintendent, Verletta White, admits she failed to report consulting income. Meanwhile, a culture of secrecy has developed that Olszewski says needs to change.
“I think that there are definitely opportunities to be had, in government across the board, with more transparency, more connectedness. And that's true for the county government as well as our school system,” says Olszewski, who feels transparency is the biggest problem in County Schools.
Over the past two years, Project Baltimore has tried to get answers on several serious issues, including a spike in students with weapons, violence, bullying, harassment, and federal civil rights investigations. Through all of it, one thing has remained the same- Baltimore County Schools administration has never granted Project Baltimore an interview.
“It's not the behavior I'm modeling. Obviously, we're here. This is an open, transparent government. For Baltimore County government, it's the same thing that I expect from all of government,” says Olszewski. “It's something I'd want our school system to do as well. It's what the public deserves. It's what our residents deserve, our taxpayers deserve.”
Olszewski told Fox45, the County will soon undergo a full audit to find waste and inefficiencies. But despite spending nearly $800 million a year on education, or 40 percent of the entire budget, the school system will not be part of that audit. State law does not allow it. Olszewski said he will be in Annapolis for this year’s legislative session to change that law. If taxpayers are giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the school system, he believes their books should be wide open.
“That's the only way we're going to actually drive progress and find solutions to problems, small to large,” he says.
As far as that full audit is concerned, Olszewski said he will encourage the school system to do it on its own. But until Annapolis changes the laws, that’s about all he can do.