Prince George’s County school board members have used credit cards issued by the district to pay for thousands of dollars in meals at local restaurants, spending that some are calling a misuse of school system funds even though it does not appear to violate the rules.
Vice Chairman Carolyn M. Boston (District 6) used her card to pay a $29 room-service tab for breakfast at a National Harbor hotel, where the board held a retreat, and for several meals at an Upper Marlboro restaurant about two miles from school district headquarters, according to WRC-TV (Channel 4), which first reported the charges. The school system did not deny that the charges were put on the cards but would not immediately release documents that detailed them.
Demetria T. Tobias, associate general counsel for the school system, said in a statement Thursday that Segun C. Eubanks, the board’s chairman, has asked the Office of Internal Audits to review its credit card policy and guidelines to “clarify any ambiguous language.”
“This in no way implies that Board members have used their credit cards inappropriately, but it does indicate that the Board of Education wants to maintain the highest level of integrity and accountability within its fiscal system,” he said.
School district policy allows board members to charge up to $7,000 a year on their credit cards to pay for “travel and other expenses related to board duties.” There are no limits on daily spending in Prince George’s, according to the policy.
The news station reported that it found numerous instances in which Boston charged meals at local restaurants and wrote “lunch between school visits” on her receipts. She often dined alone. In a single day in March, she charged $120 for a lunch and $70 for a dinner, according to the report. It was unclear whether she dined alone for those meals.
Boston did not return calls seeking comment.
Board member Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) used her card several times to pay for restaurant meals, many costing more than $40 a person, the report stated.
Jacobs called the report inaccurate and misleading.
“I have been a good steward of public funds and have in no way misused such funds,” she said, noting that the meals included “multiple people at various meetings over an 18-month period.”
The district also paid for overnight stays for some board members during its retreat at the Westin at National Harbor, which is less than 20 miles from district headquarters.
“It just doesn’t sit well, especially when you also hear that teachers don’t have access to printers,” said Juanita Miller, head of the education committee for the Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP. “Teachers are standing in line to make copies. The school system cut the budget for those types of things.”
Miller said the problem is not that the board members have credit cards but how they are using them.
David Cahn, an education activist who regularly attends board meetings, said the school system needs to impose limits on meals, similar to the federal government. The federal per diem for meals is $71, which does not include guests’ bills.
“I do not think school board members should have to pay out of their own pocket for legitimate expenses, but a lot of them don’t sound legitimate,” Cahn said.
Cahn said that when he hears of school board members using credit cards, he often remembers former school board member Marilynn Bland, who used a credit card issued by the district to take her children with her to Walt Disney World, where she attended a conference.
“Maybe they shouldn’t have credit cards,” Cahn said. “It makes abuse awful easy.”
Last year, the school board stripped former school board member Carletta Fellows of her card, issued by the district, after an internal auditor found more than $700 in unauthorized charges for utility bills.
The discovery of the charges for restaurant meals in Prince George’s comes less than three months after board members in neighboring Montgomery County voted to give up their credit cards, also issued by their district, after their spending practices came under scrutiny.
In Montgomery, board members now need pre-approval for out-of-town travel and will be reimbursed for spending according to daily allowances that follow federal government guidelines.
Montgomery began investigating spending practices after parents with a watchdog group learned that board member Christopher S. Barclay had reimbursed the school system for nearly $1,500 in unauthorized expenses since 2012, including restaurant meals and purchases from an online travel site.
A review of records by The Washington Post found that this year, Barclay (District 4) and Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) stayed in hotels in the Washington region for conferences that were less than 25 miles from their homes, costing taxpayers more than $1,600.