Dist. 207 Travel Cuts Are Sign of the Times Administrators Often Trim Trip Costs First, but Does That Lead to Lack of Training?

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Byline: Erin Holmes Daily Herald Staff Writer

As the college counselor at Maine West High School, Margaret Gallagher-Smythe has been eyeing a weeklong summer tour that would take her to 12 universities.

The trip would be invaluable, she said, given her role in urging students to explore new options.

It also would be expensive. She estimates the tour, part of a conference for educators, could cost about $900 - about double what she's been given by District 207 to spend all year.

So, she said, the rest of the money may come out of her own checkbook.

It's not the most palatable idea, but Gallagher-Smythe agrees that slashing her travel allowance is the "lesser of two evils" in a school system that is mulling increasing English teachers' class loads and laying off secretaries to cut costs.

"Will I travel less, on my own time and out of my own pockets? Probably," Gallagher-Smythe said. "But if a choice is being made between losing a secretary and cutting my budget in half, there is really no question for me."

In a move proposed and endorsed by the union, the Maine Township High School District 207 board last week cut by half what some officials said already was a comparatively lean budget for teacher, board and administrator travel.

It'll save the district about $67,000 a year. The money is used to cover transportation to and from conferences, workshops and clinics.

It also is used for registration fees - that accounts for the bulk of the spending - lodging and meals.

Since District 207 didn't cut its entire travel budget, it shouldn't have too big an impact, said school board President Eric Leys, who, by way of example, adds he's been to the national school board conference only twice in his five years on the board.

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 Associate Superintendent Dave Torres will tell you District 207's travel cuts are right on track.

Billed by supporters as priceless training for those charged with educating today's teenagers, the travel budget also is seen as an easy "cut" for districts in financial binds, since it doesn't slice too close to the classroom.

And while nearly all educators agree they'd prefer more funding in a perfect world, there's little consensus on how much it actually takes to give people the training they need.

Several years ago, District 211 made what Torres calls "significant reductions" to its travel allowances as part of cutbacks.

District 211, the largest high school system in the state, spent about $38,000 last year for teacher travel; most covered by grants. For board and administrator travel, the district budgeted just under $34,000.

It all added up to just a few thousand dollars more than in District 207, though 211 serves nearly twice as many teenagers and has 300 more teachers.

"That, to me, is very restricted," Torres said of District 211's travel funds, most of which went to registration fees for clinics and workshops.

In Northwest Suburban High School District 214 - which is just beginning to face tighter finances - officials spent nearly $440,000 on travel in the 2004-05 school year, about $288,000 less than budgeted.

That's significantly more than District 211's allowance, though District 214 has slightly fewer teens and fewer teachers.

For 2005-06, District 214 cut back, budgeting $625,292. It has spent $73,500 so far.

Board newcomer Leslie Pinney, who thinks that's far too much, has reviewed travel expenses and requested a new policy, with less spending and tweaked rules - like limits on per-night hotel expenses. …