Palm Beach Co. schools spent millions on travel, pizza, cell phones, water parks and Build-A-Bears

December 13, 2012

Steve Gunn Steve Gunn

Steve, Editor-in-chief of EAGnews, joined in 2009. Previously, he was a newspaper journalist.
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A lot of well-meaning people from the education world have been running around the nation in recent years, telling everyone that public schools need a lot more money.

They should be forced to read a list of expenditures from the Palm Beach County school district, then explain again how schools need more operating revenue.

We think they might be a bit tongue-tied.

EAGnews recently completed an inspection of credit card statements and the check register for the Palm Beach County school district in fiscal year 2010-11.

The exercise uncovered enough questionable spending to make an average millionaire blush.

In one short year Palm Beach County school officials spent more than $1 million on cell phones, more than $685,000 on hotels around the nation, more than $335,000 on air travel, more than $100,000 on pizza, more than $94,000 on some unknown product purchased from a frozen beverage company, and more than $93,000 on charter tour buses.

And those are just the most significant totals in this sickening spending spree. More than $66,000 was spent on water park tickets, in a state where there’s no shortage of beaches or water. More than $25,000 was spent on movie theater tickets, in an era when most movies can be rented for a buck or two at the neighborhood Red Box.

Just who do the people running this district think they are? How do they figure they have the right to blow millions of public dollars on foolish items that contribute little or nothing to the education of students?

How can they throw around money in that fashion when they’re facing a $50 million budget deficit that threatens teaching jobs and student programs?

To frustrate matters, district officials ignored our repeated invitation to explain their overly generous use of other people’s money.

Palm Beach County taxpayers must be outraged. If they’re not, it’s only because they haven’t heard where all of their “education” dollars are going.

EAGnews is more than happy to fill them in on the sordid details.

More than $2 million for cell phones, travel

First let’s deal with the biggest expense, cellular phones. It seems as though every employee of every school district has to have one these days, regardless of whether they are necessary to conduct work duties.

The Palm Beach County school district obviously issues its share of employee cell phones. It paid 13 bills to Nextel in 2010-11 for a handsome total of $1,057,980.

Given its massive money problems, one might expect the school district to do an audit of school funded cell phones, to determine who has one, what they use it for and whether it’s really worth the expense.

One million dollars would pay a lot of eager, energetic first-year teachers.

Then there are the enormous travel expenses, although it’s difficult to know where to begin with this topic.

Between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, the school district had a total of 1,585 credit card charges at hotels throughout the nation, totaling $685,291.

There were many excursions that cost the district many thousands of dollars, and they all can’t be listed in this story. So we’ll offer just a few of the more eye-opening examples:

There were 44 credit card charges at the Fountainbleau Resort (there are several around the nation – we’re not sure which one) between July 13-22, 2010, totaling $15,663.

Lucerne Hotel, Manhattan

There were nine charges at Residence Inn New York Times Square between July 5-10, 2010, totaling $12,710.There were 15 charges at the Lucerne Hotel in New York City between July 5-10, 2010, for a total of $23,570.There were 26 charges at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California on Feb. 4, 2011 for a total of $9,433. And there were seven charges – again at the Lucerne Hotel in New York – between Feb. 14-16, 2011, for a total of $10,796.

We’re very curious about a single credit card charge at the Marriott Orlando on July 30, 2010 for a whopping $81,035. That must have been one heck of a party.

Airline travel was another huge expense for the school district in fiscal 2010-11. There were an astounding 1,221 charges with various airlines for a total of $335,393.

School district officials are probably flying pretty cheap this year, considering all the frequent flier miles they must have rung up.

The district’s fourth largest credit card expense in 2010-11 was pizza. That’s right. We counted 937 separate charges for pizza at various restaurants in 2010-11, for a mouth-watering total of $105,904.

No wonder kids are so fat these days.

Frozen cocktails and Build-A-Bears

In most school districts, five-figure expenditures for food or recreation would open a few eyes. In Palm Beach County they are the lesser of many apparent evils. But they still deserve to be noticed.

For instance, the school district spent $94,139 at the Island Oasis Frozen Cocktail Company. Are there frozen cocktails without alcohol, suitable for K-12 students? And even if there are, did the district really have to buy that many of them?

There are more odd expenses – $93,000 at the Midnight Sun Tours Inc. bus company, $66,934 at various water parks, $28,151 at Chick-Fil-A restaurants, $20,154 at Chuck E Cheese restaurants, $16,369 on Build-A-Bears, $24,023 at the Palm Beach Zoo and D.C. Metro Zoo, and $25,098 at various movie theaters.

Other curious expenses were related to law enforcement and came with big price tags – $957,649 to the Safety Council of Palm Beach, $785,249 to an organization called “Prison Rehabilitative Industries,” and $599,863 to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Sort of sends chills down the spine to wonder why the district needs to spend all that money on that kind of stuff, doesn’t it?

In any case, an explanation for all of this spending is clearly in order. As we mentioned above, the district ignored us when we invited them to explain. Hopefully there are reporters and citizens who care enough to follow up and force school officials to provide more details about their very liberal spending habits.

Ashleigh Costello contributed to this report

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