Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Traveling School Board Acts like Money Is Endless

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Traveling School Board Acts like Money Is Endless

Article excerpt


I call it the $12,000 door syndrome.

You probably remember, although you probably had just as soon forget, the news story earlier this year about a fancy cherry wood French door ordered for the City Council offices.

The $12,000 expenditure, which was eventually canceled after the embarrassing publicity, came at the same time city officials were crying the blues about state-imposed budget restrictions.

While $12,000 is only a drop in the bucket when revenues are cut by $40 million to $50 million, such waste tends to make cries for relief fall on deaf ears.

The same syndrome applies to the School Board.

The public schools face what legitimately can be described as a budget crisis. Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals has predicted a $86.6 million shortfall for the next school year.

But in 2007, when school budgets also were strained, School Board members managed to spend almost $50,000 of taxpayer money on travel, often to cities that are favorite tourist destinations.

Travel records I reviewed for 2007 showed School Board members traveled coast to coast to attend at least 18 conferences and meetings.

They often traveled in groups, with six of the seven board members traveling to Washington in January 2007 for the Federal Relations Network Conference. The total cost for that trip was $7,704.39.

The travel records show money was spent on airfare, meals, reimbursement for mileage, taxicab fares, tips, rental cars, books and rooms at fancy hotels.

On four of the trips, family members tagged along, paying their own way but taking advantage of taxpayer-provided hotel rooms.

Three board members - Betty Burney, Vicki Drake and Brenda Priestly Jackson - traveled to San Francisco last April for a National School Board Association conference with a total cost of $7,330.13. The board's secretary also went on the trip.

While the $50,000 spent on travel by board members is a pittance compared to what needs to be spent to improve our schools, it's galling that the extravagance came at the same time teachers were having to dig into their own pockets to buy school supplies for their classes because the school system was so financially strapped. …

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