2019 | Schools

Internal Financial Watchdog Considered for MCPS

Could replicate or expand on role of county’s inspector general

Officials are mulling the idea of hiring an inspector general focused solely on Montgomery County Public Schools.

Montgomery County already has an inspector general who monitors spending by any agency within the county government or that receives county funding, including the school system. The new position being considered would operate solely within MCPS.

Last month, school board member Jeanette Dixon spoke out against the school system’s decision to spend $250,000 on an independent investigation into rape allegations at Damascus High School last fall. Dixon wrote on Twitter then, and said in an interview this week, that an inspector general for MCPS would have helped determine if the expense was a wise decision.

“We want to be good stewards of the funds, and we want everyone to be treated fairly. I think having that oversight is really important,” Dixon said. “The board has been doing some work in terms of providing greater oversight of the school system as opposed to being told what’s happening. An inspector general would be a complement to that work.”

County attorneys said establishing an MCPS-specific inspector general would require state legislation.

Montgomery County Inspector General Megan Davy Limarzi declined to comment on the record about her role in providing oversight for MCPS or whether the new position would be beneficial for her office.

Limarzi is responsible for “preventing and detecting fraud, waste and abuse in government activities,” according to the county inspector general website. She also proposes ways to “increase the legal, fiscal and ethical accountability of county government departments.”

The county’s inspector general’s office is empowered to review complaints about “Fraud, Waste, or Abuse in the [activities] of the County Government, Independent County Agencies, or Montgomery County Funded Educational Systems,” the website says.

The county inspector general’s office oversees 32 government departments, and since 2006, office has issued seven MCPS-related reports, according to the website.

Some community groups, like the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and Montgomery County Education Association, previously proposed the idea of an MCPS inspector general, saying it would ensure the integrity and efficiency of financial decisions.

Dixon agreed and said she intends “at some point to ask if there’s any energy in looking into” the proposal among school board members.

“Some people might feel threatened by (having an inspector general), but I think it would be good for the system,” Dixon said. “In the long run, it would be good in terms of helping us do our jobs and doing the best for our kids.”

The school board has taken steps recently to enhance its fiscal oversight of the school system’s $2.66 billion budget.

School board member Brenda Wolff highlighted the Sept. 10 hire of Daniel Marella as director of fiscal and audit management for the school board.

Marella previously worked as a budget analyst, assistant inspector general and chief financial officer for the federal government. In his new role, he will help the school board examine proposed budgets and existing programs.

Wolff said she supports adding an MCPS-specific inspector general.

“I said it publicly when I was campaigning for the board that I thought we should have our own inspector general,” Wolff said. “I think it would be helpful to have somebody reviewing and evaluating what’s going on, on our behalf.”

Student school board member Nate Tinbite also said he favors hiring an inspector general for MCPS. He compared the school district to a “large corporation,” emphasizing its 207 schools, multi-billion-dollar operating and capital budgets, 164,000 students and 23,000 staff members.

“The budget is the size of some small countries’ … so I think in terms of financial understanding and financial security, that does need to be more secure,” Tinbite said. “If other systems have it, why not MCPS?”