Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Hogan opposes plan to cut school maintenance reviews

David Lever. (file)

David Lever. (file)

A proposal to dramatically slash the number of schools reviewed in an annual maintenance audit is meeting with strong opposition from Gov. Larry Hogan.

The proposal, which could be voted on in two weeks by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, would reduce the number of school maintenance reviews around the state at a time when Hogan and others have placed an emphasis on ensuring that state-funded school facilities are kept up.

“The governor has been very clear about it and common sense dictates that we have more school inspections, not less,” said Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman. Mayer said the reports based on those inspections help ensure students are learning in a safe and healthy environment and provide a level of oversight for how state-funded schools are maintained.

“It’s up to the current head of the IAC to get the job done,” Mayer said.

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, through a spokesman expressed similar concerns.

“The comptroller would be concerned about any proposal that would slow down how often a school is inspected and how the proposal, as laid out would stick to an eight year cycle without causing a much more significant spread of inspections than the two-year difference suggests,” said Alan Brody, a Franchot spokesman. “He’d be interested in hearing the details of that proposal.”

David Lever, the outgoing executive director of the agency, is proposing a nearly 60 percent reduction in the number of schools evaluated on an annual basis.

The plan calls for the number of inspections to be reduced from 233 schools to 100 over the next year that starts in July and for an expansion of the current six-year review cycle from six to eight years. If approved, inspectors would increase the number of schools to 123 in the following year and 185 schools in two years. After that, the agency would re-evaluate the new rotation to determine if it will continue with an eight-year cycle.

“We think this is beyond the limits of human energy,” Lever said of the existing schedule. “There’s a snowballing effect, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been persistently behind.”

Maryland is one of about a half-dozen states that have some form of school maintenance oversight program. Currently, the agency is in just the second six-year review cycle. In Maryland, the Interagency Committee on School Construction falls under the state Board of Public Works which is lead by Hogan and of which Franchot is a member along with Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

Lever said the program provides worthwhile data on how local jurisdictions are maintaining school facilities but that the schedule is too intense to consistently maintain. Additional delays are attributed to an inability to keep staffing levels constant from vacations to retirements and illnesses, including one inspector who is currently hospitalized being bitten by a Brown Recluse spider.

The committee could vote on the proposal in the next two weeks.

The issue of school maintenance reports has loomed larger since Hogan became governor. Comptroller Peter Franchot has frequently expressed concerns about how school districts were maintaining expensive school facilities. Last year, he and Hogan raised concerns about a backlog of annual maintenance reports, with the governor noting that a new one had not been posted on the agency’s website since 2009.

“The issue of school maintenance is very important. Over the last two budgets, the governor has provided three additional (employees) for the IAC,” Mayer said.

Hogan provided money to hire an additional employee at Lever’s request. Since then, the reports are up-to-date but the employee the agency hired has since been let go, with Lever saying that things hadn’t worked out as well as he had hoped.

Lever said finding an appropriate replacement requires finding an inspector who can write detailed technical reports.

“It’s hard to find an inspector who can write beautiful English that is very intelligible and communicates the appropriate message,” Lever said.

Mayer said that while the governor is withholding comment on the proposal to reduce the number of maintenance reviews his expectations have not changed.

“Anything that is due, the governor expects to see it,” Mayer said of the maintenance reports.