February 5, 2024 4 Min Read

By Adam Pagnucco.

If you thought that the resignation of Superintendent Monifa McKnight meant an end to MCPS’s leadership issues, you thought wrong!  That’s because the person the school board plans to appoint as interim superintendent has problems of her own, some of them documented in a local government investigation as well as in Maryland courthouses.

Monique Felder, who the school board has announced it is planning to appoint as interim superintendent tomorrow, has a long career in education.  She worked for 15 years in MCPS as a principal and administrator, leaving in 2014.  Since then, she has been an administrator in Prince George’s County Public Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools as well as the superintendent of Orange County Schools in North Carolina.  She has also had numerous positions in the private sector.

During her tenure in Nashville, the public schools were the subject of many articles in local media.  In a series of investigative reports from 2016 through 2019, News Channel 5 in Nashville found numerous problems in the city’s schools.  Felder was the district’s chief academic officer for most of that time period.

The story most directly tied to Felder was her acceptance of payments from a company with ties to school district vendors.  In February 2019, News Channel 5 reported the following:

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A top Metro Schools official pocketed thousands of dollars in consulting fees from a group with ties to companies doing business with the district.

But our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that Dr. Monique Felder failed to disclose money that she received in 2017 until auditors started asking questions.

Felder is the district’s chief academic officer — the person that Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph brought with him from Maryland to head up instruction for the city’s 86,000 students.

In January 2018, Felder filed a financial disclosure in which she was asked to “list all sources of your income for the preceding calendar year.”

Felder listed none.

In fact, a recently released audit of Metro Schools says Felder had actually pocketed $4,000 in 2017 from the Education Research and Development Institute.

ERDI is an industry trade group that pays school officials to sit down with technology companies, giving them feedback on products they hope to sell to those officials.

The group’s affiliated companies include eight with whom Dr. Joseph’s team has signed contracts — for more than $17 million.

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Video from News Channel 5.

The government investigation itself details the payments to Felder.

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Education Research and Development Institute reported that they did not pay any Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools employee or Joseph and Associates, LLC, other than consulting fees to Dr. Monique Felder, Chief Academic Officer. Per Education Research and Development Institute, Dr. Felder received these amounts:

Fall 2016 between September 30, 2016, and October 2, 2016

  • Airline reimbursement – $551
  • Ground transportation stipend – $70
  • Honorarium – $2,000

Spring 2017 between April 7, 2017, and April 9, 2017

  • Airline reimbursement – $284
  • Ground transportation stipend – $70
  • Honorarium – $2,000

Fall 2017 between September 29, 2017, and October 1, 2017

  • Airline reimbursement – $416
  • Ground transportation stipend – $70
  • Honorarium – $2,000

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According to News Channel 5, Felder was one of Nashville’s highest paid employees, making $185,000 as of February 2019.  Only the metro school director (their equivalent of superintendent) had a higher salary.

Three months later, the district announced that Felder and other top administrators were leaving the school system.  They followed the metro schools director, who had hired Felder years before.  Felder would go on to lead Orange County Schools in North Carolina.

In announcing its intent to appoint Felder, the Montgomery County school board wrote this:

In the vein of transparency, the Board wants to make it clear that they are aware of a prior investigation into the financial disclosure reporting of an honorarium received by Dr. Felder from an educational consulting company in 2019. The Board has reviewed the findings and is confident that the findings were unsubstantiated as the report concluded. The Board is confident that Dr. Felder is a trustworthy, upstanding and highly respected educational leader who will be able to competently guide MCPS through this transition.

This statement is contradicted by the investigation itself, which states the following (with bold type appearing in the report):

We did find evidence Dr. Monique Felder’s January 10, 2018, MNPS Disclosure of Interest form omitted Educational Research Development Institute as a source of income for the preceding year. Dr. Felder did an addendum to her MNPS Disclosure of Interest form for the calendar year 2017, on October 15, 2018, to include this source of income. Also, Dr. Felder disclosed Educational Research Development Institute as a source of income on her January 30, 2017, MNPS Disclosure of Interest form.

Moreover, as stated above, the report listed the exact payments received by Felder from the company.  Does the school board believe that top administrators should accept money from outside firms?

There is more.

While Felder worked at MCPS, she lived in Damascus and was a defendant in three lawsuits.  In 2001, American University sued Felder over a contract and obtained a judgment of $5,057.19, which was satisfied in 2007.  Also in 2001, Servus Financial Corporation sued Felder over a contract and obtained a judgment of $2,412.81, which was satisfied in 2002.  And in 2006, the federal government filed a tax lien of $8,780.90 against Felder, which was released months later.

Here’s the kicker, folks: MCPS was listed as the garnishee in the Servus Financial Corporation case, proving that this was not a different Monique Felder.  How can the school board not know about this?

Felder’s federal tax lien.  She no longer lives at this address, having sold the residence in 2007.

These details can be verified in Maryland’s judiciary case search website.

It may be that Felder has done positive work in her career and the school board apparently believes that outweighs the information above.  But in the aftermath of the Beidleman scandal and the resignation of McKnight, what MCPS needs is an interim superintendent who is absolutely spotless.  Whatever else she may be, that’s not Monique Felder.

And that brings up one more question.  Were the leadership problems in MCPS really all Monifa McKnight’s fault?  Or does the fault ultimately lie with this board?

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