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Mont. Co. school board members' credit card use called into question

Saturday - 7/5/2014, 3:41am  ET

Are Montgomery County tax dollars getting to where they need to go?

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SILVER SPRING, Md. Reading, writing and arithmetic have temporarily become overshadowed by lobster tail, hotel room service and credit card misuse.

Credit card purchases by Montgomery County Board of Education members and their staff have set off a new round of criticism and an effort to overhaul spending practices.

There was the restaurant meal at Fager's Island during a conference in Ocean City. The final tab, which included orders of the surf and turf, lobster tail and sea bass, was $509.

In another eyebrow-raising charge, a round trip taxi fare to St. Mary's County cost $457. The board member, Judy Docca, cannot drive for health reasons, so she takes taxis to meetings, ABC7 reports.

Other purchases have been called "accidental," with school district credit cards covering personal expenses.

One of those, by Board member Roland Ikheloa, was a $581.87 purchase at a tire shop. He later repaid the school district.

Board member Chris Barclay told ABC7 his 14 unauthorized purchases with the school credit card were accidents.

The newly-released documents reveal some lavish indulgences, even while some teachers take it upon themselves to supply their classroom needs.

"We hear from teachers who are spending hundreds of dollars on classroom supplies, textbooks, props whatever they might need to teach in their classroom," says Janis Sartucci, an outspoken member of the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County. "And they're being told that the budget is limited, so they're not reimbursed for these items."

Parents have also been asked occasionally to help with money and school supplies.

"We don't see a respect for the public education dollars," she says.

Sartucci sees a pattern of "accidental" credit card use for personal expenses, the latest of which came to light through a Public Information Act request.

The receipts released this week were from Board of Education staff members.

"I don't think that most tax payers would think that the dollars that they are mandated to spend on the public school system are going to fund lobster and room service and upgrades in hotels and airfares," Sartucci says.

A board committee this week supported changes in spending practices, including the elimination of hotel room service. Additionally, credit cards purchases would be limited to out of town travel, the Washington Post reported.

The recommendations will be heard before the full board later in the month.

Sartucci doesn't believe that is enough, however, citing a pattern of misuse.

She believes the only solution is to post expense accounts on a monthly basis.

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