ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - Montgomery County Public Schools has suspended American Express credit card accounts linked to all Board of Education members.
The move comes less than two weeks after the ABC7 Watchdog Team discovered longtime board member Christopher Barclay made 14 personal purchases with taxpayer dollars. The charges, which the two-time board president has since paid back, amounted to more than $1400. The expenditures ranged from a fast food meal to a $300 reservation on Hotwire.com.
On Monday, Board of Education President Phil Kauffman and Vice President Patricia O'Neill released a written statement explaining the eight-member board's renewed commitment to fiscal responsibility:
"Recent public interest in the usage of credit cards by Board members has emphasized the necessity to review our processes and procedures to ensure that these cards are being used in an appropriate manner."
In late April, MCPS launched an ad hoc committee to assess the best practices for managing business-related expenses. The committee, consisting of school board officers and board member Michael Dorso, will also analyze every board credit card statement since 2012. Although a work timeline wasn't immediately available, the committee will ultimately recommend improved reimbursement strategies.
"The committee has requested, and all Board members have agreed, to suspend the usage of their MCPS-issued credit cards while the committee conducts its work," the statement adds.
However, the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, a community watchdog organization, has a lot questions about the newly formed ad hoc committee. High on their list of inquiries: where and when will their meetings take place, and will members of the public be allowed to attend?
"The cure for secret spending is not a secret committee. So, it needs to be open to the public, and it needs to have transparency," Parents' Coalition member Kathy Gambrell said. "These issues need to be taken care of in the light of day."
Chris Barclay Loses Support:
While MCPS is working to correct possible shortcomings, it may be too late for Barclay, who is currently running for the hotly contested Montgomery County Council District 5 seat.
On Tuesday, the Services Employees International Union Local 500 (SEIU), which represents education support staff like bus drivers, secretaries and custodians, plucked its coveted endorsement from Barclay.
"Obviously, in light of recent events, we needed to look at things," SEIU Local 500 spokesman Christopher Honey remarked.
Following much talk, and growing concern, SEIU leaders met Monday where they decided to drop Barclay. The political divorce comes exactly three weeks before the June 24 primary election.
"Christopher Barclay has always been a strong proponent for our schools, and for our members, but there have been some issues lately," Honey added.
SEIU Local 500 has since pinned its approval on Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), a progressive democrat whose focussed heavily on education issues during his campaign.
"For as long as our members have known and worked with Tom Hucker, he has been a steadfast supporter of our schools, our children and our community," SEIU Local 500 President Merle Cuttitta said in a written statement.
And Wednesday could generate another devastating blow, when the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) votes to break free from Barclay as well.
"This is very hard for us. Either way, it will be very tragic," one MCEA union source told ABC7.
MCEA, which consists of 12,000 classroom teachers, guidance counselors, speech pathologists, and media specialists, has long sang Barclay's praises. Yet, amid recent negative headlines, including the credit card scandal, many members have become increasingly concerned with public perception.
"It's the idea that our [MCEA's] endorsement condones Barclay's recent conduct," the same MCEA source added.
ABC7 made repeated phone calls and sent numerous emails to Barclay, but the 17-year resident of Takoma Park, who now resides in Silver Spring, never got back in touch.