Spending frozen for all Montgomery County school board members

The Montgomery County school board has agreed to suspend the use of its purchase cards after school board member Christopher S. Barclay used his improperly. (Courtesy Montgomery County Public Schools)

WASHINGTON — The Montgomery County school board has suspended the use of school system-issued credit cards for all board members after one of its leaders used his improperly.

On May 21, ABC7 reported that school board member Christopher S. Barclay used his American Express card to buy meals and pay for hotel rooms.

Among the 14 unauthorized purchases he made, Barclay spent $906 on Hotwire.com and $73 at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Also, he used the purchase card at Popeyes, CVS and 7-Eleven, among other places.

“I surely have learned from the mistake,” Barclay, a candidate for the Montgomery County Council, told ABC7. “Any time it was brought to my attention, I took care of it.”

On Monday, however, an ad hoc committee of school board officers and Michael A. Durso, chairman of the board’s Fiscal Management Committee, issued a news release saying that it agreed to freeze the purchase cards for the entire school board while the ad hoc committee reviews spending practices.

In the release, School Board President Phil Kauffman and Vice President Patricia O’Neill said the committee will review the board’s expenses for the past two years and determine whether purchases were appropriate under school board policy. Then, the ad-hoc committee will bring the recommendations to the full board for a vote.

“We are aware that [the school system] has received a number of public requests for documents related to the usage of credit cards,” Kauffman and O’Neill said in the statement. “Staff is diligently locating and reviewing the responsive documents and will produce the relevant materials.”

All told, the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County — an advocacy group that challenges the school system on various education issues — says that Barclay made nearly $1,500 in unauthorized purchases. Though he’s repaid the money, his political aspirations may have taken a sharp hit.

The Washington Post reports that the county’s powerful teachers union might withdraw its endorsement of Barclay as its pick for the Montgomery County Council’s District 5 seat. They could rescind that endorsement by Wednesday.

If Barclay loses the endorsement, he loses his spot on the union’s coveted “Apple ballot” — which, historically, is the golden ticket to winning elections in the county. Volunteers hand the ballots to voters going into the polls.

“This has been a teaching moment for me,” Barclay said in a statement. “I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure a more transparent process in spending practices.”

The Democratic primary is June 24.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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