Maryland Del. Bob Long has introduced a bill which he says is in response to the “alleged shredding” of Baltimore County Public Schools’ (BCPS) financial documents concerning what he characterized as a “scandal that took place during the BCPS audit in the fall of 2018.”
The 6th legislative district Republican said, “I am angry about the possibility of a cover up and want to see true accountability. That is why have I introduced this bill for the 2020 Session. We need to have a backup of all financial records.”
Long says he wants to prevent a scandal from happening in the future.
In 2018, within weeks following the indictment of former Superintendent Dallas Dance, BCPS’ law office began the process of gathering financial disclosure statements which it says it later destroyed on two days in April and August 2018.
Dance had been indicted — and was later convicted on perjury charges — for providing misleading information on the same types of documents that the law office destroyed for numerous employees following the announcement of Dance’s charges.
The bulk of the records – roughly 2,400 of them – would be destroyed the day before Dance surrendered to jail. In all, the law office destroyed nearly 2,600 financial disclosure statements, ranging from years 1997 to 2013.
While the records had been destroyed in accordance with a four-year document retention policy set by the school system, and approved by the State Ethics Commission, BCPS had not made use of that policy until it chose to discard the financial documents in 2018, after having maintained the records for over two decades.
Since then, questions surrounding the legality of the document destruction have surfaced since the system was not in compliance with Maryland State Archives (MSA) statute, which requires that the MSA is notified of any record destruction and that the school system keep a MSA-approved retention policy filed with the MSA.
The MSA is also responsible for approving retention policies, approval which BCPS did not have at the time its law office destroyed the records, raising concerns that the destruction of documents and evidence for a procurement audit may have been in conflict with state law.
The timing of the law office’s decision to destroy the records, which immediately preceded a high-profile and widely-requested audit of the system’s procurement processes, may have impacted the outcome of the financial audit, in which the auditor later noted he was unable to obtain some financial disclosure statements since they had been destroyed.
The financial statements were also discarded while a now-Gunpowder Gazette reporter was in the process of actively requesting the documents, making them unavailable to the media and the public at large.
In response, in the fall of 2018, the Baltimore County school board put a ban on the destruction of certain types of documents belonging to executive directors and above.
Despite the ban, a whistleblower, who came forward in October, claimed that a file room containing years’ worth of financial and accounting records had been disassembled and that documents had been destroyed – not only while under the destruction ban, but also while the procurement audit was underway.
Records provided to The Gunpowder Gazette by the district surrounding the record destruction showed that, while thousands of pounds of documents were destroyed during the time, 10 boxes containing financial records had been discarded after employees purportedly had scanned them first.
After months of requests for comments, the district’s current Superintendent Darryl Williams, who was not an employee of the school system at the time of the document shredding, challenged media reports, all while the district failed to provide requested documentation on precisely which records were destroyed.
Long’s plan would require the retention of all financial records for seven years and for the school board to designate a “custodian of records”
The district already has established retention schedules for different document types, including for accounting records.
Currently, the financial disclosure statements must be retained for four years, although the law office is prevented from destroying them due to the temporary ban which is still in place and which the district has recently attempted to remove, citing a logjam of documents that departments much currently store.
Long’s bill would also require that a record custodian certify any records that have been digitally stored for seven years, and that all financial records are backed up in a secure secondary cloud-based location.
A hearing for House Bill 755 has been set in the Ways & Means Committee for Wednesday, Feb. 19.