The state legislature next session will consider a bill that would allow the county government to establish an independent watchdog to oversee Montgomery County Public Schools.

The bill was presented during a public hearing with the county delegation this week and is sponsored by Del. Jared Solomon, a Democrat from Chevy Chase, and Sen. Ben Kramer, a Democrat from Wheaton.

Montgomery County has an inspector general who monitors spending by any agency within the county government, Montgomery College and the Housing Opportunities Commission.

County code says the inspector general has authority over MCPS, but that code has never been codified by state law as required, according to Solomon.

The bill discussed this week would codify the county code and bring MCPS within the purview of the inspector general and give the Montgomery County government the authority to hire an MCPS-specific inspector general.

“It’s not a specific criticism of the school district, we’re just in a place where the MCPS budget is a huge part of the county’s overall budget and having an independent review of any agency of that size is, I think, best practice,” Solomon said in an interview Wednesday.

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Education advocates for several years have pushed for an inspector general to evaluate the school system and its school board, which oversees a $2.68 billion annual budget.

The idea surfaced again this year after school board member Jeanette Dixon spoke out against the district’s decision to hire an external consultant to investigate sexual assaults in a football team locker room at Damascus High School.

Dixon said the $250,000 investigation was not “good stewardship” of MCPS’ financial resources and an inspector general could have helped determine if the expense was necessary.

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At Monday’s delegation meeting, representatives of the Montgomery County Civic Federation and the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations spoke in favor of the bill. They said it would provide greater oversight of how contracts are awarded and how school construction funding is spent.

“Confidence in our school system is so important today, especially considering some of the issues coming up, like the boundary analysis,” said Laura Stewart, vice president of advocacy for the MCCPTA. “Giving the inspector general jurisdiction over MCPS will help taxpayers trust that their money is being used as intended — to educate their children.”

School board members have said they support hiring an MCPS-specific inspector general, have also highlighted recent efforts to enhance the board’s fiscal oversight of the school district.

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In September, the board hired Daniel Marella as director of fiscal and audit management for the school board, intended to provide financial guidance to the board. Marella previously worked as a budget analyst, assistant inspector general and chief financial officer for the federal government.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com