MARYLAND

Watchdog: MCPS administrator repeatedly misused school district credit card, takes months to refund school system

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - There are more questions about a lack of spending oversight within the Montgomery County Board of Education.

New records show the man in charge of approving credit card expenses for school board members, might need monitoring himself. His name is Roland Ikheloa, and he's worked in a variety of roles within Montgomery County Public Schools since 1987. In 2006, Ikheloa was promoted to his current position: the board of education ombudsman and chief of staff.

Ikheloa, like every board of education member, is issued an American Express credit card. The card, which is funded by deep school district financial coffers, can be used for a variety of school-related expenses including, but not limited to, meals, lodging, and airfare.

In May, school board member Chris Barclay took a considerable amount of heat for 14 unauthorized purchases he made with his school district credit card. During a one-on-one sit-down interview with ABC7, Barclay vowed he "accidentally" used his taxpayer-funded credit card all 14 times.

School district expense reports show like Barclay, Ikheloa also fell victim to "mistaken usage." Between April 2012 and Oct. 2013, the administrator made five personal purchases, topping $750. The charges included $36.56 for groceries at Giant, $50 for dry-cleaning at Sargent Cleaners, and $581.87 at Mr. Tire in Rockville.

Off-camera, Ikheloa told ABC7 that each charge was merely an oversight, adding that he repaid MCPS "immediately." Records however show he took anywhere from 30-70 days to refund the school district, depending on the charge. The native Nigerian also claimed he made the mistake because his personal and school district credit cards look alike.

"You can do that once, and you never do that again. Most people that have a company credit card never do it at all," Janis Sartucci with the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County said. "The punishment for misuse is you lose your privilege, the card is cut-up and taken away."

ABC7 asked MCPS how many times an employee or board member can incur a wrongful expense before their credit card benefit is suspended or terminated. School spokesman Dana Tofig never provided an answer.

Sartucci, long vocal about MCPS' pitfalls, says she's also troubled by an accountability deficit pertaining to the school board's credit card approval process. For example, records show every time Barclay made personal charges with taxpayer money, Ikheloa authorized them with his signature. And in the five instances where Ikheloa misspent public funds, Barclay's signature can be found in black ink ---- approval granted.

"We have staff members abusing the credit cards and board members who have abused their credit cards signing-off for the staffers. The same people are signing-off on each other's credit card receipts, with the exact same behavior," Sartucci added.

In June, the Maryland State Prosecutor launched a criminal investigation into the board of education, analyzing its financial records dating back to 2010. Meanwhile MCPS, which boasts a roster of 151,000 children, has assembled a special committee to overhaul credit card policies and guidelines. New rules in regulations are expected to be in place by late July.

"We have an institutional acceptance of misuse of credit cards, and this is at the board level. This is a $2.3 billion dollar budget with a $7 million dollar American Express bill. If we don't have oversight here at the board office, we can't expect it at our local schools," Sartucci concluded.

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