The Montgomery County Council was furious last year when school officials announced — in the 11th hour — a $21 million surplus in health insurance reserves. The school board used the money to avoid an increase in health insurance premiums for school employees that the council had proposed.
The fuming council asked the inspector general to investigate the surprise surplus. The report was issued Monday.
The inspector general found that the monthly financial reports the school system provides to school board members and other county leaders include estimates of revenues and expenditures, but not actual figures. Actual figures could have been more helpful to the elected officials when making decisions about the budget, the report said.
It also found no paper trail in the form of financial reports or memos to the school board — or the county council — alerting them to the projected savings in health insurance costs prior to a June 8 letter from former Board of Education president Christopher S. Barclay to former Montgomery County Council president Valerie Ervin.
Barclay said he learned about the surplus verbally, according to the report, and that the council president was also informed verbally, an assertion that Ervin has denied.
“We did not find any documents available to the Council or their staff, or any evidence of informal communication between staffs that would have provided that information,” the inspector general’s report said.
The report recommends that all relevant information needed by decision makers in the future should be consistently communicated, and that all important communications should be well documented.
“I believe that all of us have moved beyond this,” Barclay said Monday. “The board and the county council have moved on to making sure that we are prepared for the upcoming budget and making sure we can communicate as much as possible and as clearly as possible.”
A written response to the report by chief operating officer Larry Bowers defends the school system in part by saying that nobody from the county council ever asked for extra information about the status of the employee benefits plan.
“MCPS will continue to provide financial information as requested by elected officials,” Bowers’ response said.
Another investigation into the breakdown in communication last spring was conducted by the county’s office of legislative oversight and released in November.
That investigation confirmed what school officials had said -- that the surplus was attributable to lower-than-projected health care claims.
But it also found that school officials would have been aware of the surplus by February or March. They announced the extra money in June.
The report also suggested a more regular schedule for reporting budgeted versus actual expenditures in health insurance or pension funds, to prevent another 11th hour maelstrom.
This year, with a new superintendent setting a new tone, the two elected bodies have been more optimistic about having more positive, transparent budget talks.