- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Prince George's County, Md., school board members yesterday received a copy of the audit examining their expense accounts, describing the document as "hard-hitting" and "necessary" to restoring public confidence.
While details of the preliminary draft of the audit weren't available, school officials said privately that the audit "names names" and requests reimbursement by board members for questionable expenses.
"Almost no one is spared," said one board member privately. "It certainly isn't the whitewash we thought it might be."
Another board member was not sure the audit had enough teeth. "After preliminary review, I am still not certain the audit will produce the desired results expected by the public," the board member said.
Both requested that their names not be used.
In June, The Washington Times examined individual expense accounts and found that some board members exceeded their $9,800 annual budgets with excessive charges for dining, travel and office supplies over the past two years.
None of the charges was subject to oversight. Members of the Prince George's school board are the only board members in the area with individual county-issued credit cards.
Under pressure from state officials, the nine-member county school board in June hired an independent auditing firm to examine the expense accounts of board members, schools superintendent and the superintendent's staff over the past four years.
The auditors found that a majority of board members who served in the past four years exceeded their $9,000 annual limit.
Among the audit's other findings:
The school system reimbursed one member for a $15 parking ticket.
Two members charged golf outings with state and local officials.
Several board members were asked to repay charges for alcohol but have not.
Some members charged the airfare for their spouses to accompany them to out-of-state conferences.
One member charged more than $4,000 to furnish a home office.
Two board members paid for computer upgrades in their home offices one for $900 and one for $4,000.
One board member charged almost $1,000 for campaign magnets.
Now, state and local officials are making plans to hold hearings on the results of the audit, which is almost two months late.
The first will be held Oct. 3 by Delegate Howard "Pete" Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Also, an ethics panel resurrected by the school board this summer and charged with reviewing ethics complaints against school officials is due to release its first report Monday. The report will include the auditors' findings.
Meanwhile, school officials are trying to contain the controversy.
Two weeks ago, school board members and administration officials met to decide how to release the audit results to the public and minimize the public outcry over its findings, school sources said.
"They are trying to get us to stick to one party line already written out for us," said a board member who declined to be named. "The theory is that if we all say the same thing, no one can learn otherwise."
State education officials and legislators began calling for an audit in March, after board member Marilynn Bland was accused of sending the school district a $6,000 catering bill for an all-day forum for parents in District 9, which she represents. The board later voted to deny the charge, which school sources say has yet to be repaid.
Despite that, the board voted to transfer an additional $7,000 to Mrs. Bland's account just as she was adding a $7,800 charge for a newsletter for residents of her district. The newsletter was sent to parents three days before March's primary election, in which Mrs. Bland was a candidate for re-election.
Mrs. Bland was unavailable for comment yesterday. The audit did say Mrs. Bland reimbursed the county for a portion of a questioned $2,000 trip to a conference in Disney World and side trip to Mississippi.
In advance of the audit, state and county officials have threatened impeachment and criminal proceedings of board members who have spent school funds inappropriately.
County residents say they are impatient to see the results of the long-awaited examination.
"I am curious to see it, as it is rather late," parent and school activist Donna Hathaway Beck said. "I understand since the audit began, the board has taken action to make sure something like this never happens again. It is disturbing, though, that it got as bad as it did."

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