Board member travel expenses not excessive, according to 2011 report

Michelle Stuckey
January 27, 2012 at 9:45 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

After a proposal to create a travel policy for the School Board failed last week, members defended their travel in 2011 saying that the knowledge and experience they gained attending conferences all over the country was invaluable.

Together, the eight members spent about $27,800 on travel with most of that going towards trade conferences. Ellis Alexander and John Smith each spent over $7,000 on travel – more than double what other members spent.

Some of the conferences they traveled to include the Louisiana School Board Association, National School Board Association and National Association of Black Educators. Several board members, including Smith, have leadership positions in the associations to which they travel.

Currently, there are no policies in place that limit the amount that board members can travel. When member Sonny Savoie proposed creating a plan last week, no one seconded the motion.

School Board member Dennis Naquin said that attending the conferences can actually save the district money in the long-run.

"Conferences are an opportunity to review and evaluate successful programs from similar school districts around the country," Naquin said. "This allows us to reduce our time and cost by utilizing the research developed by others."

Savoie agreed, saying that conferences have been a good place to meet vendors who have products or services that helped make the district more efficient for teachers and students.

Smith said that attending the conferences is vital to the future of public education.

"The very survival of ‘public education’ in America has been called to question," Smith said. "Every citizen, particularly those who make educational decisions, must be fully informed in order to participate intelligently in the change process."

Smith said that the value of attending a conference should not be measured in money or ideas brought back to the district.

"It is more appropriate to consider the value of attending such conferences in terms of the opportunity to understand, influence and participate in the discussions and critical debates that shape the course of public education at the national, regional and state levels," Smith said. "Attendance at conferences has afforded me the opportunity to meet with and influence…officials who make decisions regarding educational funding, teacher evaluation, school achievement, education standards, ESEA, Title I, etc."

Members believe that the conferences are so important that they often take time off of their other jobs to attend.

"We are entrusted with the most important job one can have in the care of peoples’ most prized possessions," said Savoie. "A person can’t learn anything in life under a mushroom and learning teamwork is one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in my board service, whether it was on the local, state or national level."

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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