ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and state lawmakers agree children should be safe in school and school officials should be held accountable for wrongdoing.
But members of the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee raised questions and concerns Wednesday to Hogan’s legislative staff regarding measures of accountability.
“My concern with this legislation is it seems to create another layer of government and add more bureaucracy to a process that already exists,” said Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democrat who represents portions of Baltimore and Howard counties.
Lam outlined how agencies such as Child Protective Services, Office of Special Education Programs and the Department of Education provide oversight in education matters.
But Hogan’s staff said that’s not enough. The governor proposed for a second straight year to create an inspector general’s office designated for education oversight. The office would comprise six individuals to investigate school concerns such as child abuse, procurement and graduation requirements.
The office would function as an independent state body and receive subpoena powers to obtain information.
Although the state’s attorneys in all 24 jurisdictions have subpoena powers, it can only be done unless on an indictment, said Maryland state prosecutor Emmet Davitt.
The state’s five-month-old Office of Education Accountability, which receive anonymous tips by phone or an online survey form to report information such as grading requirements, budgets and child abuse, has received 330 correspondence so far.
Valerie Radomsky, a former Baltimore County public school teacher who Hogan appointed in September to lead the accountability office, said the office was contacted 91 times regarding facilities, 41 involving safety and 15 for allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers and advocates.
“Without the ability to obtain information by subpoena, we cannot fully investigate potential cases of wrongdoing, abuse or ethical conduct,” Radomsky said. “This act would put the proper mechanism in place. Marylanders have a right to expect more accountability, better local management and the strongest oversight possible.”
The legislation, known as the Accountability in Education Act, would have a review commission appoint an inspector general to serve a six-year term. The group, with members appointed by the governor, Senate president and House speaker, may also investigate and conduct hearings if allegations are made against the inspector general.
According to the fiscal note, it would cost almost $690,000 next fiscal year to fund the office and as much as $846,900 by fiscal year 2024.
“We can achieve an open, ethical and accountable education system that will operate at maximum efficiency and integrity,” said Ali Keane, deputy legislative officer for Hogan, adding that Baltimore City and Montgomery County are the only jurisdictions statewide with an inspector general.
A few senators took exception when Keiffer Mitchell, Hogan’s senior adviser, specifically mentioned Prince George’s County’s previous graduation and grading scandal as an example of a case the inspector general would handle.
A state audit released in 2017 discovered staff changed grades for some high school seniors and didn’t have proper documentation to graduate, or simply ineligible. After that incident, Hogan began to research and pursue approval of the “Accountability in Education Act.”
“While the governor may not be targeting a specific location or a county, but the only school [system] he wants to make reference to is Prince George’s County,” said Sen. Obie Patterson (D-District 26) of Fort Washington. “I know we have some deficiencies that need to be worked on. I don’t know if the OIG office can come in and do any better than the competent people that we’ve got elected to represent Prince George’s County.”