ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 04, 2018)—Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Tuesday forming an Office of Education Accountability, an independently appointed investigator general, to look into allegations of corruption, abuse and other improprieties in the public education systems across the state.
The governor's announcement comes on the heels of several high-profile scandals in Maryland school systems.
In Prince George's County, school board members last year accused county school system leadership of artificially inflating graduation rates by altering students' grades, and in March cited unapproved pay raises for some school system staff.
Hogan highlighted former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance's recent jail sentence after he pleaded guilty in March to perjury as an example of the need for more oversight. Dance failed to disclose income he received from a company that he helped to obtain a no-bid contract with the school system.
"After repeated allegations of wrongdoing, mismanagement and corruption, citizens have lost confidence in the leadership of their local school systems," Hogan said at a State House news conference. "Our children cannot and should not have to wait until the Legislature returns in January," the governor said. "They deserve action beginning right now."
The newly formed office "will act as a liaison between local boards of education, the state Board of Education and Maryland's concerned citizens," Hogan said. "This new unit will be responsible for analyzing, coordinating and providing recommendations on matters including procurement improprieties, abuse, neglect, safety, grade fixing, graduation requirements, assessments, educational facilities and budgetary issues."
A bill Hogan, a Republican running for re-election, spearheaded earlier this year to establish an investigative oversight office for schools failed in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
The governor's executive order will be followed by the introduction of the Accountability in Education Act of 2019 to the General Assembly after the legislative session begins Jan. 9, Hogan said. The act would establish the Office of State Education Investigator General, an independent part of the Maryland State Department of Education, and would be appointed by Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, Charles and Calvert and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
"This new office will be charged with investigating complaints of unethical, unprofessional, improper or illegal conduct in our schools," Hogan said, and "will be able to make inquiries, have the ability to obtain information by subpoena and hold hearings in order to get to the truth."
John Woolums, the director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said his office has previously opposed similar legislation to create a statewide inspector general, and their position would not change with the governor's announcement.
"It's not reflective of any reluctance to be subject to accountability but in fact it's because there is ample authority residing with the state's superintendent of schools and the state Board of Education to provide oversight and enforce state laws and regulations that they determine are not being followed or adhered to by local school systems," Woolums said. "There have been bills in the past introduced to create an inspector general and we've traditionally and consistently opposed those."
Hogan appointed Valerie Radomsky to be the director of the newly formed office. Radomsky, a former Baltimore County school teacher, is a Board of Public Works coordinator in the Maryland comptroller's office.
The new office would be responsible for responding to complaints and referring them to the State Board of Education or other public school agencies. The complaints, and their resolutions, would be maintained in a database, Hogan said. An annual report of the findings and recommendations would be submitted to the General Assembly, he added.
Hogan's gubernatorial opponent, Democratic candidate Ben Jealous, criticized Hogan's announcement.
"A political investigator run out of the governor's office won't change the fact that our schools are underfunded by billions of dollars and our teachers are underpaid. As governor, I will fully fund our schools, not blame our hardworking teachers and support staff."
Hogan maintains he has spent record amounts of money on education in Maryland, in excess of the Legislature's mandated funding formulas.
Jealous announced a piece of his own education agenda Tuesday, promising the creation of a Teacher School Supply Fund. The money would come from other Marylanders choosing to donate a portion of their tax returns.
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost voiced her disappointment at Hogan's decision to sign the executive order.
"On what should be an exciting first day (of school), to hear Gov. Hogan highlight failures when he, for the past three years has underfunded our schools…" Bost said. "The governor's office already has agencies available to look into claims of fraud. This is a diversion of resources, and campaign rhetoric."