Montgomery County School Board Caught with Graft, Twice in Same Year!
By Mary Ellis

Another school board caught in financial scandal

This article comes from guest writer, Mary Ellis. She wants to expose a common disease found inside government schools that we're all exposed to. Graft and cronyism. Something I like to call 'financial inbreeding.'

Mary is a concerned citizen and this scandal took place in her home state and hit her purse directly. Even though this didn't happen in my backyard, when the-powers-that-be claim they've found a solution to their waste and pilfering, we-the-taxed never get a refund, right?

Take it away, Mary...

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Aren’t school board members supposed to be fine, upstanding citizens--good examples for the children they serve? And aren’t they supposed to be honest stewards of our taxpayer dollars?

At least that’s how they represent themselves when they ask for our votes.

But according to a Washington Post article, the elected school board in Montgomery County, home of Maryland’s largest school district, falls short of these standards.

Where’s good old-fashioned honesty?

When watchdog group Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County checked into board spending records, things didn’t add up.

They discovered a board member had made a series of unauthorized purchases with his school-district-paid credit card—charges that required reimbursement. But for three of the purchases, the district carried his unauthorized charges for 9 to 12 months before he repaid them.

The Parents’ Coalition dug deeper. Soon they uncovered charges run up by other elected board members that didn’t seem right--bills for restaurant meals, hotels, and conferences.

This news didn’t sit well with the city council and parents.

How do these bureaucrats deal with spending complaints?

The most effective way to quiet the uproar seems straightforward—get rid of the credit cards.

If your family developed difficulty controlling credit, that’s probably what you would do. And you could use your setback to teach your children how to solve financial problems responsibly.

The school board doesn’t see it that way. They hired an outside law firm to look into their own spending. The review process came with a hefty price tag: $140,000. (Not the kind of example you want your children to follow.)

School Board President Bill Kauffman (At Large) defends the decision to hire lawyers. As, he explained in the Post article, “[it was] the right thing to do … Objectivity was an important part of the process.”

But not everyone is sold on the board’s “objectivity.” 

Activist Janis Sartucci insists the board has “a long standing relationship” with the law firm. The same article reports the board has paid out more than $600,000 to the firm in the last two fiscal years. Even worse, that stunning amount only includes $112,569 of the legal fees for the credit card spending review process.

School board’s costly response baffles taxpaying parents

City Council member George L. Leventhal probably speaks for most of Montgomery County’s taxpayers: “I just don’t think there is any way you can tie a ribbon on the fact that our school board spent $140,000 getting advice on how to stop wasting money and make it look good.”

You’re probably scratching your head right alongside Leventhal and what must be scores of baffled Montgomery County families.

What did Montgomery County Schools get for their six-figure legal bill?

After many hours and a thorough investigation, the law firm found no instances of intentional spending abuses--only ambiguities. (What are the ambiguities?  The article doesn’t enlighten readers.)

But the lawyers did come up with an important recommendation: School board members should turn in their credit cards.

County Council member Cherri Branson wonders why an auditor rather than a costly law firm couldn’t have come to the same conclusion: “There is something about this that doesn’t smack of good stewardship to me.”

At least the controversy was settled, right?

No. Not really.

Activist Sartucci maintains the investigation didn’t end the questions: “We certainly don’t have an explanation for many, many of the charges that were there.”  

And not all Montgomery County politicians are ready to forget the hefty legal fee.

City Council member Phil Andrews probably speaks for other council members and many parents: “The solution was obvious: to get rid of the credit cards and adopt policies that were reasonable.”

The school board took action—now what will you do?

Government officials, board members and politicians are individuals. Many act with integrity and hold themselves accountable to “we, the people.”

But others act as if they have privileged status.  They seem to view our taxpayer dollars—money we worked hard to earn—as a never-ending source of revenue to be used for their own purposes.

The credit card controversy in Montgomery County illustrates how just a few elected officials can negatively influence a school district’s budget and reputation—and ultimately, the students’ education.

So you have a choice to make:

You can hand over the quality of your children’s education to strangers and hope for the best.

Or you can take control of their academic careers—and control the funding. After all, no one cares about your children as much as you do.

The choice is yours.

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Thank you, Mary!

I know how you feel! In my neck of the woods, the local school district (LAUSD) thought they'd show compassion by spending someone else's money to buy every child in the school district an Apple iPad (I'm not making this up).

Parents cried bloody murder, but in the end parents were forced to cough up over $1 billion to launch this sham. It got so bad that the FBI is now investigating.

A lot of people made a lot of money on this financial inbreeding. It's easy to do when you can throw around $1 billion of someone else's money.

But I still haven't gotten my refund for this fiasco. And I'm not difficult, either. I'll happily accept a pre-owned iPad or two as fair compensation. Anyone? Anyone? Crickets…



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Research links:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Montgomery-County-School-Board-Scrutinized-Government-Issued-Credit-Cards-262952001.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/montgomery-county-school-board-critics-at-odds-over-140000-legal-bill/2014/10/18/c792f2e0-47cc-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html