Newly released documents show that additional Montgomery County school officials had to make reimbursements for purchases that were improperly charged to a credit card or paid for with public funds, including for personal expenses and event tickets.
The documents, which Montgomery school officials posted online this week, come as the school board moves ahead with an effort to overhaul spending rules for the board. A board committee continued its work Thursday on new requirements to limit what kinds of purchases school board members can have reimbursed and how school system credit cards are managed.
“I think we’re probably 95 percent of the way there,” board President Phil Kauffman said after the meeting. The committee’s recommendations could go to the full board later this month.
The committee backed changes that would eliminate expensing hotel room service, incorporate federal language into overall spending guidance for board members and tighten the review and approval process for expense reports. Use of Montgomery’s district-issued credit cards would be restricted to out-of-town travel.
As the rules are rewritten,Maryland state prosecutors are investigating whether the Montgomery County Board of Education’s use of county credit cards is criminal misconduct, according to district officials and a subpoena issued in June.
The broader public scrutiny dates to spring, when the Parents’ Coalition, a Montgomery watchdog group, posted records that showed school board member Christopher S. Barclay made reimbursements for unauthorized charges on his district-issued credit card. Barclay has voiced regret and called the experience a teaching moment.
The newest documents show a school board staff member also reimbursed the district for spending on his district-issued credit card.
The board’s chief of staff, Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, made a $582 purchase on May 30, 2013, at Mr. Tire in Rockville that was noted as a mistake. He repaid the district with a check dated Aug. 5, 2013, according to documents. The records also showed more timely reimbursements for purchases from CVS and Giant.
Schools spokesman Dana Tofig, who said he was speaking on Ikheloa’s behalf, said Ikheloa used his work credit card by mistake on a few occasions and quickly reimbursed the expenses.
The records also show that the school system paid $125 for a ticket for Kauffman’s wife to join him at a county arts ball. The expense came Nov. 12, 2013, and the reimbursement check was dated June 2, after the spending review was underway.
Kauffman said he had paid his wife’s way in the past but was told by board staff that there was an extra ticket. He said he was not aware it had been purchased with district funds. “When I learned that, I paid it back,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman said the ticket purchase was brought to his attention as expense records were reviewed by staff. The Parents’ Coalition noted that it made its public records request shortly before Kauffman made the reimbursement.
School board Vice President Patricia O’Neill also reimbursed the school system for a ticket for her spouse to the same event, though she paid for the ticket within two weeks of the expense. She said that making arrangements through the board office enabled the couple to sit at the same table.
The newly released records also show that board member Judy Docca, who has a medical condition that keeps her from driving, frequently uses district-paid taxi service. One trip to Southern Maryland cost $457 and another to Baltimore was listed at $315 in the records.
Tofig said Thursday that the taxi service was arranged through the board office to allow Docca to continue working.
Docca said she was on school business for those trips and others. In St. Mary’s County, she said, she was working with school officials in her role as black and Hispanic caucus chairwoman for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
Among other spending included in the documents, a $509 restaurant meal stood out. It came during a conference in Ocean City in October and appears to have included nine school officials. One ordered lobster for $39. Two ordered prime rib at the same price.
Asked about such expenses Thursday, Kauffman said the new rules don’t limit specific entrees, but they will do more to emphasize the exercise of due care and prudence.
O’Neill said the issue coming to light will help the board.
“I hope this whole episode is a lesson learned for everyone, that when you’re on the taxpayers’ dime, you have to exercise good care and prudence,” O’Neill said.