The Board of Education on Monday approved eliminating the use of district-funded credit cards for Board members after controversy erupted earlier this year over some members’ credit card expenses.
The Board unanimously approved the recommendations of an ad hoc committee established by Board President Phil Kauffman to delve into the issues — which included one Board member who repaid the school system more than $1,900 to cover 16 unauthorized charges over five years. An additional batch of records released by the school system in June showed two Board members charged for hotel stays and room service in D.C. during a conference, despite living within easy driving distance.
“Based on the Ad Hoc Committee’s work and the review of outside counsel, it was clear that our expense processes and procedures were weak and were not always followed,” Kauffman said. “I believe these changes were needed and will help build public trust in how the Board conducts business and spends valuable taxpayer resources.”
The changes approved Monday also include a daily per diem for nonlocal travel to conferences, a new rule for pre-approval for nonlocal travel, a new list of pre-approved meetings and events and a new approval process consisting of semiannual reports.
The changes, detailed below as provided by MCPS, will take effect immediately:
1. Removal of credit card authorization: Board members will not be issued credit cards, even for the purposes of authorized travel outside of Montgomery County. Board administrative staff may continue to use the cards for authorized purchases.
2. Per diem for authorized travel: Board members will receive a daily allowance–or per diem–for nonlocal travel, in accordance with funding caps used by the federal government.
3. Preapproval for nonlocal travel: All out-of-county travel must be preapproved, including attendance at out-of-county hearings, work group meetings, professional development opportunities and conferences. Board members will not be reimbursed for lodging at hotels located within 50 miles of the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
4. Approved events/meetings for Board members: The Board developed a list of preapproved conferences, events and meetings that its members would be authorized to attend or travel to in 2014-2015. The Board also established a process for considering requests that the county pay for attendance at an event, meeting or conference not on the preapproved list.
5. Meal reimbursement: Board members will no longer be reimbursed if they purchase a meal for someone else, such as a constituent, political leader or MCPS staff member. Board members can be reimbursed for their own meals if they are directly related to Board business, and at a rate consistent with caps set by the federal government.
6. Mileage reimbursement: Any out-of-county travel must be preapproved in order for a Board member to receive mileage reimbursement.
7. Home office: Board members will continue to be provided with the necessary equipment and supplies to maintain home offices. However, the Board will no longer grant reimbursements for home office Internet service.
8. Approval process and semiannual reports: The Board approved a more robust process for expense approvals. Also, the Board’s Fiscal Management Committee will review summary reports on the status of expenditures by Board members and the Board office. The full Board will receive the reports in their regular Board packets as an item of information and the reports will be available for public inspection. An annual external audit of Board expenses will also be conducted.
Photo via Phil Kauffman