School Board members butt heads over travel expenses

Michelle Stuckey
January 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

During a Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, St. Charles School Board members butted heads regarding the district’s travel policy - or lack thereof.

"I looked at our policy manual and couldn’t find a travel policy," said member Sonny Savoie. "I know other boards across the state have been limiting travel and canceling out-of-state travel. We don’t have to do that, but I think it would be wise to look at (creating) a travel policy and see how it effects board members and the staff on how we operate."

The topic of board travel has been brought up recently during meetings by members of the public. While one individual has spoken out about their belief that the board members spend too much on travel expenses and should be checked, others have said they believe the travel is warranted.

Savoie said that the only mention he could find regarding board travel was a policy on reimbursement that was not very extensive. He further said he was concerned at the lack of a policy, noting that the national and state school board associations have such policies.

But he received strong opposition to the idea from fellow board member John Smith.

"The first thing the board needs to decide is whether or not the board believes that at this point in time something is broken that needs fixing and that a policy is something that will fix whatever is perceived to be broken," Smith said.

Smith said he believes that the board follows guidelines for travel reimbursement, including how much travelers can spend on food, and that all travel reimbursements are met with scrutiny. He also said that the board’s travel is audited on an annual basis, that the members are under a code of ethics and that he did not see the need to discuss a travel policy.

"If it was for making this board a much better, more responsible, more efficient board I’d be all for that, but I don’t see that that’s going to contribute to the efficiency or effectiveness of this board at all," Smith said.

Alex Suffrin, another member, agreed with Savoie in that the board may be lacking guidance when it comes to travel. But Smith said that he believes the board members are mature enough to decide for themselves how much is too much travel. Smith was also opposed to turning the creation of such a policy over to the administration.

"I don’t want us to get the superintendent involved in an issue that doesn’t affect the superintendent," Smith said. "The superintendent is not my boss and I’m not going to have the superintendent deciding on a policy for me.

"Generally, I think board members are mature enough, we are elected officials and we can govern ourselves. I don’t think we need to get into trying to put together some restrictions where people have to govern us - we have responsibility and understand responsibility, and we don’t need to have a set of policies and regulations outside of those that are imposed by law."

Savoie ultimately made a motion to ask the administration to develop a policy regarding travel that the board could discuss and hopefully adopt soon. However, no other member seconded the motion.

Member Melinda Bernard suggested that the board discuss the topic at their upcoming spring retreat, noting that she did not believe any board members should be allowed to travel excessively compared to other members. The idea to discuss the topic at the retreat was met with assent from several board members including Smith.

"Obviously you all don’t want to deal with it now, so let’s deal with it then," Savoie said.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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