Board of Education Committee Recommends Eliminating Credit Card Use

MCPSAfter a few months of embarrassing revelations about members’ use of school system-issued credit cards, an ad hoc committee of the Board of Education on Tuesday recommended substantial changes.

The committee recommended eliminating the usage of school system-issued credit cards by Board members, implementing a per diem for members attending professional conferences, limiting home office expenses for Board members and establishing a list of pre-approved public events Board members can attend.

The committee also released a report from attorney Karl Racine of the Venable law firm, who concluded that while the Board’s credit card and expenses rules are weak and ambiguous, there is no evidence that members intentionally used school system-issued credit cards for personal expenses.

Board member Chris Barclay 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 Barclay and Board member Rebecca Smondrowski charged for hotel stays and room service in D.C. during a conference, despite living within easy driving distance.

The recommendations will go to the full Board of Education on July 28 for review and a vote.

“The Board of Education takes its responsibility seriously and we want to make sure that we are being good stewards of public dollars,” Board of Education President Phil Kauffman said in a prepared press release on Tuesday. “Our review process has shown that we clearly need to improve the review and approval process of Board member expenses. I think our recommendations today will go a long way in ensuring that we have good processes in place to manage expenses.”

The specific recommendations follow, from MCPS:

1.  Removal of Credit Card Authorization.  The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that Board members not have credit cards, even for the purposes of authorized travel outside of Montgomery County. Board administrative staff may continue to use purchase cards for authorized purchases.

2.  Per Diem on Authorized Travel. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends providing Board members a per diem for nonlocal travel. In some cases, the per diem may be given to Board members in advance of travel in an amount not to exceed the per diem allowed for the trip.

3.  Home Office.  The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that Board Members still be provided with the necessary equipment and supplies to maintain home offices, but that the Board no longer grant reimbursements for home office internet service.

4.  Development of List of Pre-approved Events/Meetings for Board Members.  The Ad Hoc Committee developed a recommended list of conferences, events and meetings that Board members would be authorized to attend or travel to for 2014-2015.

5.  Semiannual Reports. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that the Board’s Fiscal Management Committee review, on a semiannual basis, 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 items of information.

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