Baltimore County Leads The Way In School District Financial Transparency
BALTIMORE COUNTY - Everyone wants to know how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to local education.
While general information on school district expenditures is available for all Marylanders, Baltimore County sets a unique standard by offering unparalleled detail in its financial reports.
State legislation has long required that public school districts in Maryland disclose any contract expenditure over $25,000. However, only Baltimore County Public Schools are mandated to specify the reason behind each financial transaction.
The Maryland Daily Record reports that the push for financial transparency in education began in 2008 when the Maryland General Assembly passed an act demanding that state agencies make expenditures above $25,000 publicly accessible. In 2011, the focus shifted to Baltimore County when then-Delegate Stephen Lafferty insisted that the county disclose the spending amount - and its purpose.
Another bill, HB 355, was passed in 2019 and once again singles out Baltimore County for more detailed financial reporting. The bill requires all school boards to annually disclose the payee's identity, their location by zip code, and the payment amount for contracts exceeding $25,000. Unlike the other districts, Baltimore County must also indicate if the payee is a minority-owned business.
The result of the three bills is a treasure trove of detailed financial data, albeit somewhat inconsistently categorized.
The online tool catalogs 598 active contracts with various vendors providing services to BCPS. The contracts vary wildly in term length, ranging from as short as four months for shredding secure documents to a 20-year, $20 million contract with a locksmith company.
The vast majority of Baltimore County's expenses go toward building construction and maintenance. The most significant construction and maintenance contracts include a $50 million contract for architectural design, $130 million for various roofing projects, and over $18 million for materials and labor for replacing Lansdowne High School.
Additionally, the district has invested heavily in technology, utilities, and transportation. BCPS has entered into a $30 million contract for server maintenance over 15 years, $58 million for natural gas over nine years, $400,000 for 3D printers, and more.