The chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board will ask her colleagues Tuesday to hire an independent auditor who would act as a check and balance of sorts on school superintendent MaryEllen Elia. April Griffin said she wants to bring a fresh set of eyes and a greater sense of accountability to school operations. This bad idea would drive a needless wedge between the board and its own chief executive. The School Board has the authority and obligation already to keep Elia in check, and it should not stand behind a surrogate to do its own job.
As Griffin envisions it, the auditor would be a designated contractor for the board who would work on an as-needed basis to review any aspect of school operations, from conducting financial audits to assessing programs and policy options. Griffin said the auditor would work at the direction of the board and not its individual members, and that any project would be debated and voted on in an advertised public meeting.
These assurances speak to the slippery nature of employing a standing investigator to Monday-morning quarterback virtually anything that the administration does or proposes. While auditors are widely used in government and business to examine fraud, budgeting and contract issues, Griffin sees a much broader role for this auditor beyond exposing financial and other irregularities. She would have had the office, for example, investigate recent controversies involving inner-city scholarships and the special needs program. "Now, things are brushed under the rug," Griffin said. "This idea can restore some balance of power to the board."
The board hardly needed an auditor to figure out why the scholarship program and the special needs department were such a mess. Both needed closer supervision and a higher priority within the administration. And any problems could have been corrected almost overnight had the board instructed Elia to do so and made sure that she did.
Griffin has for years had a rocky relationship with Elia and both sides share the blame. The board needs to be more direct in public with Elia about the lack of accountability at the root of so many internal problems, and Elia should accept that her board wants more say in the decisionmaking process. But hiring an alter ego to the superintendent who has a vested interest in finding fault will only worsen the relationship between the administration and the board. Griffin should find a more productive way to send a message.