The Washington Post

Montgomery school board members cleared of criminal misconduct in card use

Maryland state prosecutors have cleared Montgomery County school board members and staff of criminal wrongdoing related to their use of school system-funded credit cards, ending the criminal investigation into the board’s spending practices.

Schools officials announced the results of the investigation Tuesday, releasing a letter from State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt that said credit card use by the district’s elected officials, staff and top administrators “does not rise to the level of criminal misconduct” and that the investigation has been closed.

Davitt declined further comment when reached Tuesday.

The end of the state investigation comes a month after the Montgomery County school board voted to give up district-issued credit cards as it passed sweeping changes to board spending rules and procedures, including limitations on out-of-town travel, local hotel stays and restaurant meals.

Phil Kauffman, president of the board, said he was pleased the state investigation is closed.

The broad review of board spending “was not an easy process, but I think the changes are good for the system,” he said.

“I think we will have more structure and more transparency, but board members will still be able to engage with their constituents and stay involved with regards to important conversations about education,” Kauffman said.

School district documents posted online in the spring by the Parents’ Coalition, a Montgomery watchdog group, showed board member Christopher S. Barclay made unauthorized charges, including meals and travel expenses, that required reimbursement to the school system.

Barclay had 16 such charges totaling more than $1,900 during the past five years, according to records The Washington Post has reviewed. In three instances, his repayment came nine to 12 months later. Barclay has said he regrets the charges, calling the episode a teaching moment and emphasizing that he paid the money back.

The school system released — and posted online — hundreds of pages of expense report records after the spending practices gained public attention in the spring and sparked a number of records requests.

The records showed two board members charged stays in a D.C.-area hotel for a conference less than 25 miles from their homes. They also showed reimbursements for spouses’ tickets to events and charges of more than $480 by a deputy superintendent for two computer bags. She later said she was going to reimburse the school system for the bags.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.

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