January 21, 2021
On the January 19, 2021 agenda of the Wicomico County Council was an introduction of a proposed change to the State Education Article on budget and reporting requirements for the Wicomico County Board of Education. This requested change is not for any new legislation. It is simply to amend the existing state education article to add Wicomico County alongside the other Maryland counties that are already included in the Maryland education article. Currently, Wicomico is the only Maryland county that does not have legislative accountability measures in place for its public school system.
This amendment would require the Wicomico County Board of Education to submit to the Wicomico County Council on or before November 1 and March 1 of each fiscal year a report detailing all expenditures within the major categories of its annual budget. This report would also show any action by the Board of Education that would permit the Board of Education to spend more in any major category than what was approved in the annual budget for that category.
As of today, the WCBOE has only provided a shielded consolidated budget that is made available to the Council and the citizens, which means that we cannot see any of the subcategories of dollars actually spent. If a citizen, official, or news outlet files an official public information request, the school system will not provide this information. With 50% of the citizen’s tax dollars going to the public school system, the people want an unconsolidated budget so that they can actually see where money is spent within a budget category. That is why this change is so greatly needed.
During the Wicomico County Council meeting, Donna Hanlin, Superintendent of Wicomico County Public Schools, made a public comment. Here she was afforded the opportunity to make a public comment while she and our elected board of education members have denied the citizens the right to make a public comment before them.
Superintendent Hanlin also appeared soon thereafter at the Council’s work session for a further plea. We have never seen a Superintendent do both, which raised a red flag. Her argument was to emphasize that this education article change was not necessary, because WCBOE is already transparent with such measures of reporting already in place. Accompanying the Superintendent was Gene Malone (WCBOE Chair), Jesse Reid (WCPS Comptroller) and Micah Stauffer (WCPS Chief Financial Officer), who all expressed their disagreement and displeasure before the council and citizens.
The Superintendent stated that the monthly financial reports found in the transparency portal will provide the information that the Council and citizens are looking for (but not entirely). Upon review, the reports do little to support the subcategory of each major category. For example: OFFICE SUPPLIES is a budget category, but does not show subcategories such as PAPER, PENS, PENCILS, etc. Expenses are all lumped into the main category and seem to be hidden, not revealing as to how the money is actually spent. Going through each detailed transaction or check register does very little to support the monthly summary when trying to see the big picture.
If the proposed change is redundant, then what harm does it pose, and why is it such a threat?
In defense of the school system, our elected Wicomico County Councilmen Bill McCain, John Cannon and Josh Hastings all went out of their way to unjustifiably protect the interest of the establishment rather than the citizens of Wicomico County. Councilman John Cannon made a comment stating that John Psota (acting County Executive) did not support the transparency and accountability change. Citizens, including the press have reached out to Mr. Psota on this matter, but did not receive a response.
If transparency and accountability is already established with the school system (according to WCBOE), then adding Wicomico to the Maryland education article should not be a problem. Support for change is a threat, because the school system has something to hide and protect.
Kudos to the four Council members who supported the accountability and transparency change to include Wicomico in Maryland's existing education article were: Councilwoman Acle, Councilmen Ernest Davis, Joe Holloway, and Council President Larry Dodd.
What are officials trying to hide and protect? Is it the fear of waste, fraud & abuse being exposed?
Three council members clearly tried to undermine and obstruct fiscal transparency and accountably between the school system and the citizens. Their conduct raised the eyebrows of the citizens, which many are questioning their fitness to even serve on the Council moving forward. Many feel as though their behavior crossed the line of ethics. It appears as though it is no longer a matter of a Council member’s intuition while representing the people, but a matter of protecting their own network of special interests. Many refer to this as "The Swamp."
Who on earth with a pulse would not support fiscal transparency and accountability before the people? This is a non-partisan issue. Four Council members voted in support of the change, and three members voted against it. As a result, a letter of support has been sent to the Lower Shore Delegation to show their support for the requested change. Here is a copy of the letter.
Those who oppose this change are working overtime by trying to stop it, such as this letter from the WCBOE to the Delegates after the Council voted in support. If this very simple, yet practical transparency and accountability change is successfully obstructed, that would reveal the depths of the deep state and their intention to subdue the people. If this supported change is unsuccessful at the state level, it will then become a civil rights matter. As a geographic group, Wicomico County would then be discriminated against through an established effort of exclusion, rather than inclusion. As a society, we cannot achieve equity and equality in our schools unless we are transparent, fair, and granted the same rights afforded to other counties in Maryland. This behavior of our officials and administrations cannot continue.
The citizens are waiting on Wicomico's acting Executive John Psota to step up to the plate.
As it stands, the education article will not be approved to include Wicomico County unless acting County Executive John Psota provides his letter of support in addition to the Council's letter of support. Again, citizens and press have reached out to Mr. Psota to inquire of his position receiving no response. Please email Mr. Psota and let him know that you support fiscal transparency and accountability for every tax dollar spent within the school system, and that you would like him to submit his letter of support to the Wicomico County Delegation on behalf of the citizens: John Psota (Acting Executive of Wicomico) firstname.lastname@example.org
Trust comes from full transparency. Some questions from citizens for consideration:
Why is the Wicomico County Board of Education reluctant, hesitant, and resistant to information requests from Members of the Wicomico County Council concerning fiscal expenditures?
Why did no other members of the Wicomico County Board of Education attend the Council Meeting?
Why did Bill McCain make such a defensive issue of "WE" the people?
Why did John Cannon try to dismiss and table the the issue because of a conversation he had with the acting County Executive?
Why does the Wicomico County Board of Education not want to have the same fiscal accountability and transparency as other counties?
Why does Superintendent Hanlin believe that the issue is a matter of trust and that her trust should not be questioned by oversight at a subjective level?
Why did Gene Malone show up and make comments urging a working group to be put together when cooperation between the Board and the Council is almost non-existent?