THE STRICT new rules put in place by the Montgomery County school board to govern member spending are aimed at reassuring taxpayers that their money is being wisely spent. There’s no question there was a need for tighter controls, but it is disconcerting that officials responsible for the system’s $2 billion budget apparently can’t be trusted with credit cards. Let’s hope members learned from this controversy and exercise better judgment.
School board members voted unanimously this week to approve new guidelines regulating spending for travel, meals and other school-related expenses. The new rules, which include both board members forfeiting their district-paid credit cards and the establishment of per diem formulas, follow reports of improper charges and poor oversight.
It is important to note that not all board members, who receive relatively little money for the work they do, were implicated. Most egregious, according to a Post review of records, was Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring), who felt the need to apologize as the board voted Monday. “I am very sensitive to the toll all of this has taken on the institution and taken on my colleagues, and for that I am truly sorry,” he said of the unauthorized personal expenses he has since repaid.
Too bad Mr. Barclay is not one of the school board members whose seat is up for election in November so that voters, who wisely rejected his recent bid for County Council, could make their own statement.
Some of the spending that raised eyebrows was allowed under board rules, and an outside review of the board’s practices did not find intentional misuse. Nonetheless, it’s worrisome that board members decided to stay at hotels for conferences that were less than 25 miles from their home or used costly taxis for travel. Did it not occur to them to ask whether this was really a good use of money? Had it been their own dollars, would they have made the same arrangements?
“[W]e haven’t always lived up to our ideals in how we operate,” acknowledged Board President Phil Kauffman (At Large). It’s good the board has owned up to its mistakes and has put in place policies to ensure that expenses are in the best interest of the public rather than that of individual board members.