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David Lever, executive director of the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction, faced nearly 30 minutes of questions — about half of the Wednesday meeting of the Board of Public Works — from Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Hogan, Franchot express frustration with head of Md. school construction

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s governor and comptroller say they are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of data and reports for maintenance of state-supported school construction projects.

David Lever, executive director of the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction, faced nearly 30 minutes of questions — about half of the Wednesday meeting of the Board of Public Works — from Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. Both men said they were concerned and frustrated that Lever was missing promised deadlines to provide reports on how school systems were doing when it comes to maintaining school facilities.

The state will spend $318 million this year in statewide school construction and renovation projects. Hogan and Franchot said the public demands accountability on how those dollars are spent.

“Because I do believe that school systems, when they come before this board to ask for new money for new schools, replacement schools or major improvements to existing schools, should be held accountable for how they’re taking care of what they already have,” Franchot said. “That’s where the maintenance records come in and are so crucial.”

Franchot wanted Lever to re-affirm that the three-member board would receive the reports way in advance of January when it meets with school systems to review requests in a process sometimes called “beg-a-thon.” The board is ultimately responsible for approving statewide school construction and and renovation requests.

But Lever’s answer was less than satisfying to Hogan and Franchot.

“It’s going to be a struggle, but we’re working on it,” Lever said adding that the board will likely receive summaries rather than full reports.

“This is why fiscal responsibility is so important,” Franchot said. “It’s not good enough to just shovel money into education. Somebody has to actually look at how the money is spent and whether the taxpayers and the educators are getting a fair return and getting a good product.”

“I’m a little frustrated in this issue,” Franchot said.

In January, Lever faced criticism from Hogan and Franchot over a backlog of reports on school maintenance. At the time, that last published report was posted to the commission’s website in 2009.

“So back in January when we asked you why we were five, six years behind on the reports, and you said if you could only have a staff person you could catch up and get this done and you’d report back to us,” Hogan said. “We hired that person a month later in February, and we’re still pretty far behind, it sounds like.”

Currently, Lever and the committee are three years behind, with the inspections for this year’s reports currently underway.

“Can you give us a more realistic time frame for when you can get it done since you didn’t get it done in the time frame you promised?” Hogan asked.

Lever said he could deliver summaries by Jan. 15, two weeks before the board meets to review school project requests.

“That doesn’t really provide a whole lot of time,” Hogan said. “We were hoping to have it a month earlier.”

Lever said his initial self-imposed deadline was optimistic and it “would be very hard for us” to deliver the reports by December.

Lever also faced criticism from Hogan over a report the governor requested that would look into practices that were used to build the Global Monarch Academy, a tuition-free charter school in Anne Arundel County.

Hogan has held up the school as a potential model for efficient and less-expensive construction. He tasked the state committee in August with looking at what practices could be adopted by the state.

“We have a substantial backlog,” Hogan said. “We’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars in. We just want to build more schools, faster and for less money. That’s the bottom line.”

Treasure Nancy Kopp, the third member of the board, said she was expecting a report that would give her and the other members an idea of practices that could be adopted to make school construction cheaper without sacrificing education.

“I hope your report is to that and not simply denigrating anything other than what we are already doing,” Kopp said.

Lever told the panel that his initial review raised concerns that adopting those practices would increase long-term maintenance costs because buildings now built to last 50 years might only last 25 if the state adopted lower commercial grade building standards.

“Sounds like you didn’t like the whole idea of looking at Monarch Academy,” Hogan said.