PITTSBURGH – It’s pretty scary, from a taxpayer perspective, when a public school district spends six figures on travel in less than a year, but officials sometimes have no idea where the money is coming from.
In the first 11 months of 2017, the Pittsburgh school district spent $306,000 on travel expenses, presumably for employees and students, for a breathtaking average of about $28,000 per month, according to a story published by KDKA-TV.
Like school officials everywhere, Pittsburgh school board members were quick to defend the travel, saying much of it was paid for by federal grants. But which trips were covered by the feds, and which were charged to the school’s general fund? They struggled to answer that question.
In 2016, 15 Pittsburgh school employees attended a conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, at a cost of $23,000, according to KDKA. Six staffers also ventured to a conference in Dublin, Ireland, at a cost of $11,600, the report said.
School board members approved the trips, after being told the feds would pick up the tab. They later learned differently.
“Lo and behold, after the Dublin trip was approved, we learned that the federal government grants do not cover reimbursement for international trips,” board member Terry Kennedy told KDKA.
They say leaders set the example, and that certainly was the case when it came to Pittsburgh school travel costs.
Between the time he started his job in June 2016 and November 2017, district Superintendent Anthony Hamlet traveled to Miami, Oakland, Vancouver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. – and made three trips to Chicago, the news story said. The total tab was more than $16,000.
His predecessor, Linda Lane, had only two trips in her last two years on the job, for a total of $5,600.
Kennedy, the school board member, told a reporter that it’s time for the school district to cut back on travel and focus on challenges at home.
“People say we need to put more money in the classroom,” Kennedy said. “Well, how do get money in the classroom? Maybe let’s change the travel budget, decrease it, send fewer people.”