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Merrill College’s Local News Network Publishes Project on Maryland Public School Contract Expenditures

COLLEGE PARK — The Local News Network at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism on Monday published its latest project, "Contracted Out," an unprecedented look at how Maryland's public schools do business. 

Graphic illustrating Maryland public school contract spendingCompiled over the past seven months by the Local News Network, the project features findings made by student journalists and faculty who pored over more than 26,000 lines of data that show every contract worth more than $25,000 signed by all 24 Maryland public school districts between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years. The project includes five stories and an easy-to-use database that local journalists and other citizens across Maryland can tap for information about school spending in their individual districts.

"'Contracted Out' was a massive team effort," said Local News Network Director Jerry Zremski, who assembled the project based on the work of 55 journalism students. "Thanks to our work here, for the first time, Marylanders can easily spot trends — and trouble — in the spending decisions made by their local school districts."

Most of the data from "Contracted Out" was culled from the state's Open Data Portal. But despite a state law requiring school districts to publish data about every contract they sign worth over $25,000, huge chunks of data were missing when the Local News Network began work on the project in January. Merrill College students, along with Zremski, prodded school officials to publish that data. Another team of Merrill College students led by Derek Willis, lecturer in computational and data journalism, processed the data.

For information about publishing the stories or the data, contact Jerry Zremski at or 301-405-2412.

Stories in the project are as follows:

An unprecedented look at Maryland public school spending: This story details how the data for the project was compiled, and how citizens across Maryland can use the accompanying database to research school spending in their home districts.

Health care, construction, tech among biggest school expenses: This story reviews the largest expenses incurred by school districts statewide.

Baltimore County leads state in transparency of school expenditures: This story examines why Baltimore County Public Schools report the purpose of every school expenditure more than $25,000, and why no other school district in the state does that.

Some school expenses, big and small, remain a mystery: This story notes that some school district officials refused to explain huge expenditures, while others explained big spending at a local chain of Italian restaurants and a local jewelry store.

Audits show trouble lurking in school contracts: This story details several recent audits of school district spending in the state, and the problems those audits revealed.

About the Local News Network

The Local News Network was established by an anchor commitment from the Andy and Julie Klingenstein Family Fund. The network includes a local news collaborative and an internship program.

The local news collaborative teams Merrill College with news media in Maryland, providing experience for students through a midlevel reporting and writing class focused on local beat reporting while offering supplemental reporting for news organizations in Maryland. 

The local news internship program offers stipends for select students each summer to intern at a news outlet whose coverage and audience is predominantly local.

For more information, contact:
Josh Land

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