Time could be running out for state’s top school construction official.
David G. Lever, the executive director of the state Interagency Commission on School Construction, may have hinted at a potential departure during a briefing last week with the 21st Century School Facilities Commission — a 28-member panel appointed by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Lever, while explaining the makeup of the Interagency Commission on School Construction, made reference to his place on the flow chart.
“The executive director — myself, at least for now,” said Lever.
The comment barely raised an eyebrow from the commission but may be the first public acknowledgement by Lever of his tenuous hold on the position he has held since 2003.
The agency is housed in the Maryland Department of Education but is a creature of the Board of Public Works, which is controlled by the governor.
The five-member commission, which hires the executive director, consists of two members appointed by the governor as well as two members appointed by the speaker of the House and the Senate president. The state school superintendent is the fifth and final member. The superintendent is hired by the state school board and Hogan has now appointed a majority of the members. Observers believe the new superintendent, who could be hired as early as June, would likely be beholden to Hogan and his school board appointees and provide the deciding vote in any effort to replace Lever.
The 21st Century School Facilities Commission is tasked with looking at the role of state agencies, including that of Lever’s, in the school construction process. The commission could make recommendations to re-align or overhaul the system put in place in the early 1970s by then-Gov. Marvin Mandel. But that report isn’t due until December with related legislation being introduced in early 2017 — a timeline that is unlikely to prevent any potential effort to replace Lever.
Hogan has shown little tolerance for bureaucratic processes that he sees as making no sense or unnecessarily delaying what he believes are common-sense solutions.
Some of those frustrations with Lever have bubbled over publicly.
In November, Hogan chided Lever for failing to keep up with required reports on how school systems were maintaining their respective facilities, which are paid for in part with state funds. The agency was three years behind.
Lever in January told Hogan that a lack of staff caused the backlog and when Hogan asked how many additional workers he would need to get up to date, Lever asked for one and promised a Jan. 1 deadline for delivering the reports.
Ten months later, Lever told Hogan that timeline was somewhat optimistic and that the reports might be several more weeks and once again suggested that part of the problem was inadequate staffing.
It was during that same meeting that Hogan and Franchot criticized Lever for what they saw as a half-hearted review of practices used to build a charter school in Anne Arundel County. Hogan ordered the review in an effort to identify best practices that could be used by the state to be more cost-effective and therefore build more schools without substantial budget increases.
But Lever said his review raised concerns over trading increases in long-term maintenance costs for cheaper construction by building schools to last for 25 years rather than the current 50 years.
“Sounds like you didn’t like the whole idea of looking at Monarch Academy,” Hogan said.
Additionally, Lever has often appeared resistant to Franchot’s calls for greater use of state funds to assist counties in installing portable window unit air conditioners in schools that lack climate control.
Following his presentation, Lever declined to answer questions about whether he thought his job was in jeopardy. He did acknowledge the difficult relationship with the Board of Public Works — primarily Hogan and Franchot.
“They haven’t been kind to me,” Lever said. “I’ve seen that.”
So do Lever’s comments to the panel hint at his departure, willing or otherwise?
“I have my own life,” Lever said. “I have to make my own decisions.”