The Montgomery County Board of Education on Monday (July 28, 2014) approved sweeping changes to the processes and guidelines that govern the payment of expenses that Board members incur as a part of their work.
Among the changes, Board members will no longer use district-funded credit cards; will receive a per diem allowance when attending professional conferences; and will employ a new process for determining public events, conferences, and meetings that Board members can attend at the district’s expense. The Board voted unanimously to approve the changes, which take effect immediately.
“I am pleased that the Board has approved these changes and has affirmed their commitment to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Phil Kauffman, president of the Board.
For the past four months, an Ad Hoc Committee—established by Mr. Kauffman—has been reviewing processes and guidelines that govern Board member expenses. The committee also had an outside legal counsel review expense reports from the past two years and make recommendations for changes based on their findings. The Ad Hoc Committee, which included Mr. Kauffman; Mrs. Patricia O’Neill, vice president of the Board; and Mr. Michael Durso, chair of the Board’s fiscal management committee, sent a series of recommendations to the Board for consideration.
“Based on the Ad Hoc Committee’s work and the review of outside counsel, it was clear that our expense processes and procedures were weak and were not always followed,” Mr. Kauffman said. “I believe these changes were needed and will help build public trust in how the Board conducts business and spends valuable taxpayer resources.”
The Venable law firm conducted the outside review of the expenses and the Board practices and guidelines regarding the usage of county-issued credit cards. The report of Venable attorney Karl Racine found that there were weaknesses and ambiguity in the current processes that needed to be corrected and recommended that the Board no longer be issued district-funded credit cards. However, the review “did not uncover evidence of intentional action taken to improperly use the credit cards for personal expenses.” (Read the Venable report)
“All of my Board colleagues are honorable, dedicated and well-intentioned public servants,” Mr. Kauffman said Monday. “The well-being and success of all MCPS students is our top priority and each of us works tirelessly—in our own way—to make sure our schools have what they need to serve our students.”
The changes discussed and approved by the Board on Monday evening are:
1. Removal of credit card authorization: Board members will not be issued credit cards, even for the purposes of authorized travel outside of Montgomery County. Board administrative staff may continue to use the cards for authorized purchases.
2. Per diem for authorized travel: Board members will receive a daily allowance—or per diem—for nonlocal travel, in accordance with funding caps used by the federal government.
3. Preapproval for nonlocal travel: All out-of-county travel must be preapproved, including attendance at out-of-county hearings, work group meetings, professional development opportunities and conferences. Board members will not be reimbursed for lodging at hotels located within 50 miles of the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
4. Approved events/meetings for Board members: The Board developed a list of preapproved conferences, events and meetings that its members would be authorized to attend or travel to in 2014-2015. The Board also established a process for considering requests that the county pay for attendance at an event, meeting or conference not on the preapproved list.
5. Meal reimbursement: Board members will no longer be reimbursed if they purchase a meal for someone else, such as a constituent, political leader or MCPS staff member. Board members can be reimbursed for their own meals if they are directly related to Board business, and at a rate consistent with caps set by the federal government.
6. Mileage reimbursement: Any out-of-county travel must be preapproved in order for a Board member to receive mileage reimbursement.
7. Home office: Board members will continue to be provided with the necessary equipment and supplies to maintain home offices. However, the Board will no longer grant reimbursements for home office Internet service.
8. Approval process and semiannual reports: The Board approved a more robust process for expense approvals. Also, the Board’s Fiscal Management Committee will review 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 an item of information and the reports will be available for public inspection. An annual external audit of Board expenses will also be conducted.
Read the Board of Education Item