Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BOE At Large Candidates Respond to Barclay Credit Card Scandal

We asked Board of Education At Large Candidates to respond to our April 30th Press Release. Responses received are below.

The Parents' Coalition has received a comment from at-large candidate Merry Eisner-Heidorn to our April 30th press release information.  http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/2014/04/exclusive-board-of-education-member.html 
We would like to post responses to our press release from all of the at-large Board of Education candidates.Please send your response by Friday, May 30th.  If you do not wish to respond to this press release, please let us know.
Thank you!
Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, MD

Amatetti, Edward 
No response

Evans, Shebra
No response

Heidorn, Merry Eisner 

I am running on a platform that includes transparency and accountability. Today in my opening at Leisure World I suggested that it was time for our Board of Education to actually stand up and collaborate with Dr. Starr (rather than waiting for him to make proposals and saying "yes," take responsibility, and represent the citizens of Montgomery County. I believe it's what our citizens expect from the people they elect to manage such a sizable part of our county's budget. Jill Ortman-Fouse also includes transparency and accountability in her campaign platform. She wants the school system to hire an Independent Auditor. I doubt she'd appreciate secret spending on the part of the Board of Education - public dollars belong in our classrooms. Ed Amatetti, who has experience doing budget audits for cities, would like to tear the school budget apart and look for ways to save money. I can't imagine him tolerating this kind of nonsense. If the current Board of Education doesn't want to do anything now, they should look at the candidates running for the At-Large seat and get ready.

Because the bell times recommendation is due to be made on June 17th, I've been reaching out to all of them. Our supporters have been asking where all the Board of Education members stand on this issue. I couldn't help myself - so I talked to Phil about this one. He said that the policy governing expenses was created to enable those without means to run for the Board of Education. That is almost an exact quote. $96K in allowable expenses so that "poor people" would be able to serve as easily as wealthy people.

I believe that all of us, regardless of socioeconomic status, believe that public education dollars should be invested in our children. That is the point. And I believe that if we are called to serve, we're called to serve. The dollars aren't the driving factor. I'm not running for the Board of Education because of the salary or the credit cards and the opportunity to eat lunch with people, I'm doing so to serve the people. I would do so without recompense or credit cards. It's about the kids.

Have you seen the statement on Chris's campaign page?
He supports a task force review of MCPS/BOE credit card policies. I've been in work groups. I've been in steering committees. This is one of those issues that doesn't require one. Just cut up the cards, set a cap on dining (if allowed at all), and remember your goal. Public education dollars for public education. It's not about feeding the kids!

Merry Eisner Heidorn
(240) 401-7399

Ortman-Fouse, Jill 

Dear Parents' Coalition:
Working for an accountable and transparent school system has been a fundamental message of my campaign since the beginning, and it’s one of the reasons I’m running. It’s on the home page of my campaign website and on my campaign literature. I’ve been talking extensively about this issue with concerned parents and other voters at all my events and interviews. It’s also why the Gazette endorsed me even before the credit card story came out:  “Ortman-Fouse earns The Gazette endorsement for her commitment to looking into the budget through the eyes of an independent auditor and suggesting that perhaps the school system staff is top heavy in administration but lacks staff to help board members evaluate the proposals the superintendent makes.”
There appear to be issues on multiple levels.
If mistakes were made repeatedly in the interpretation of guidelines around use of BOE member credit cards, then best practices were not in place for the oversight of the expense account for the board. If mistakes were made repeatedly out of confusion, then this issue could have been remedied. Here are some possible solutions: put BOE label on the card, bill cardholders directly who then submit for reimbursement, or keep the card in a special envelope. Either way, corrective action needs to be taken promptly to restore trust and ensure fiscal responsibility. A review of the intent of the expense account and guidelines is an obvious first step.
I can only guess why an exception was made for BOE members to receive credit cards when it is not the policy of the County Council. But whatever the case, these incidents speak to a much larger accountability and transparency issue that must be addressed.
Another issue appears to be the low salary of the BOE members. If the BOE and other stakeholders believe the compensation is not commensurate with the responsibilities and workload, a review should take place, and pending that review, our Montgomery County delegation can take the recommendation to our General Assembly where it will likely pass as a courtesy. That would be a straight forward way for board members to afford to pay for their own meals. Options for funding a salary increase could come pending an external audit and may include simply moving funding from the expense account to salaries.
It does not follow IRS guidelines to charge for mileage to your place of employment. Organizations generally follow IRS guidelines when determining policy. Before I had my own business, I spent most of my career working for non-profits. I have certainly been a part of many all-day meetings where a simple lunch or dinner was served. I don’t recall ever charging for a meal to my organization when meeting with a co-worker.
This is what I do know. Every dollar counts. And the Board of Education is ultimately responsible for every dollar spent by our system. The other half of the budget is managed by the County Council. The difference between the County Council’s ability to provide oversight and the BOE’s capacity is dramatic. As has been acknowledged, BOE positions are paid part-time, although it appears their job is a full-time responsibility. They have seven total staff members, including administrative assistants and the ombudsman. The County Council positions are full-time and compensated well, each has their own individual staff and the council has a collective staff. They also have an Office of Legislative Oversight whose task is “to provide accurate information, analysis and independent findings and recommendations that help the County Council fulfill its legislative oversight function.” They also have an Office of Inspector General whose mission is to “serve as a watchdog to detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse.” I would be open to hearing all suggestions for improvement including moving select auditing and research staff from MCPS’s Office of Shared Accountability, which has a staff of 42, to the BOE to help assist them in independent research and analysis.
Now, more than ever, our school system must ensure it has a strategic operational plan with objectives, timelines and metrics to assess initiatives. We need a comprehensive review of all ad-hoc and joint programs to look for duplication and adjustments that may be necessary for greater efficiency and impact with the ultimate goal of improving student outcomes. There are many tools that can be used to accomplish these tasks, but a dedicated effort to track what’s working and what’s not is of highest importance to our students’ future.
A few hundred dollars spent here and there may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up quickly in the life of our students and teachers. For instance, our school PTAs struggle to fund mini-grant proposals every year. As a member of my daughter’s high school PTA executive board, I was recently tasked with approving mini-grant proposals from our teachers. Science teachers asked for $275 for one electronic balance scale, a hot plate/stirrer for $380, a centrifuge for $370, etc. If they don't get those tools, then their instruction can't include demonstration projects. The students just end up reading about them. I can only imagine what schools that are more highly impacted by poverty are going without. We had a request for mini-grants for four headsets for foreign language students, and the list goes on.
It is imperative that the board ensure that dollars are not slipping through cracks due to lack of planning, waste, etc., and that the valuable time of our hard-working and dedicated staff—from central administration to the classroom—is being used wisely for the best outcomes of our kids. With the growing challenges our county is facing, it is more important than ever to take every step we can to ensure that our classrooms are not getting short-changed, and our teachers and students have the critical resources to meet the wide spectrum of needs and expectations for vibrant school system.


Jill Ortman-Fouse
Working for All Kids!

Candidate, Board of Education At Large
Stay In Touch
Phone: 301.379.9339
Twitter: @Jill4AllKids
Facebook: Jill4AllKids


  1. No response - no vote. It's that simple.

  2. Silence speaks louder than words.


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