BALTIMORE – Sometimes financial mismanagement in public schools does not involve foolish or fraudulent spending.
In January, Baltimore City Schools closed for several days due to frigid conditions in classrooms throughout the school district. Simply put, the heating systems in too many buildings were broken down and kids were freezing as they tried to learn.
School officials quickly tried to paint the issue as racial in nature – the student body in Baltimore is largely African-American – and blamed state officials for a lack of funding.
“We also need to go a level deeper and see all of the levers that are impacting the state of education for black and brown children,” school district CEO Sonja Santelises wrote in a Facebook post. “There is a history of underfunding.”
As it turns out, there had been plenty of state money available for heating system repairs, but it went unused.
“Baltimore City schools actually returned more than $65 million in state building maintenance and repair funds over the past eight years, mainly because the funds were not being spent according to the state’s time requirements,” said a January article published by CityLab.com. “Most of the money was for new roofs and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.”
There is also a history of corruption within the school’s maintenance department.
“Between 2004 and 2008, 11 city school maintenance and facilities employees—including the head of facilities management—were criminally convicted in a corruption scheme that had operated at least since 1991,” CityLab.com reported. “A boiler service contractor was sentenced to 18 months in prison—but served just one.
“Millions of dollars in boiler repairs, window upgrades, and other critical work was paid for, verified, and inspected—but not done.”
State officials, who usually bend over backward to assist and defend urban school districts, were quick to defend themselves against the charges of racism and lack of funding.
“Our administration has fully funded Baltimore City Schools for the entirety of our time in office,” wrote Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, according to CBS Baltimore. “In fact, we provided more than the formulas called for. The money is not reaching the classroom – ask North Avenue why.”
The school district’s administrative office is located on that street.