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School Decisions Divide Officials In Montgomery

The money has gone toward reducing class sizes, updating the curriculum and modernizing schools. Montgomery public schools are considered among the best in the nation.

But Inspector General Thomas Dagley's report on the school system's handling of the Seven Locks project has emboldened some council members to challenge school officials on spending. Council members hired two analysts last year whose job, in part, is to examine how the schools spend money, and they say they want greater scrutiny of budget requests and spending decisions on previously approved funds.

Some council members said they also plan to be more skeptical of their colleague Michael L. Subin (D-At Large), who chairs the Education Committee and has worked closely with Weast over the years on school funding decisions.

"It is not possible for one council member or one committee to do the amount of oversight that is necessary," said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville).

At least two school board members, Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring) and Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County), agree that the council should have more oversight. They accuse Weast and other board members of making decisions without consulting the full board.

In his report, Dagley concluded that the school system misled the public when it said it was more cost-effective to build the school on Kendale Road.

Dagley, who job it is to investigate suspected waste and fraud in county government, said the school system presented incomplete cost-benefit numbers to the council. He also said the school system misrepresented the extent of public support and ignored a cheaper option: rebuilding the school on the existing Seven Locks Road site.

"We don't withhold information, we just don't necessarily provide it" unless asked, Richard Hawes, director of the school system's Department of Facilities Management, told the council at a hearing Thursday.

Some board members have responded to Dagley's investigation by questioning his competence, saying his report was incomplete because it failed to take into account the entire scope of the project.

Cox told the council last week that the Kendale site was selected because Seven Locks Road is plagued by traffic congestion. Construction at the Kendale site also could be completed a year earlier, fulfilling previous council predictions on how fast some schools should be modernized, she said.

Abrams charged that Dagley is "in over his head" and doesn't have "a clue of the complexity of the decision-making process." School officials have said they do not have to cooperate with Dagley because the school system is a state agency.

Abrams accused the council and Dagley of running "a kangaroo court."

"If he thinks that was a kangaroo court, he's in the wrong zoo," responded Council Vice President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County).

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