ST. PAUL, Minn. – Taxpayers naively accept the explanations of public officials far too often.
For instance, when the St. Paul, Minnesota school district unveiled its proposed 2013-14 budget, it included a plan to use $12.6 million in fund reserves.
That’s supposed to be rainy day money, and district officials said it was indeed raining, due to a projected shortfall between expenditures and revenues.
District officials gave that explanation to the media, the media reported it to the public, and then … nothing.
Apparently no diligent citizens or reporters sifted through district records to see if officials were sharing all of the pertinent financial information.
If they had, they probably would have discovered a great deal of questionable spending, starting with the district’s enormous travel tab.
EAGnews recently used a freedom of information request to obtain copies of the district’s travel records for 2013-14, the same year fund reserves were supposedly necessary to make ends meet.
The records revealed that St. Paul district staff traveled to 259 different conferences that year, at a total cost of slightly more than $1 million.
That total included $340,271 for lodging, $323,399 for conference registration, $309,886 for air fare and $25,274 for taxi transportation. There’s no word on whether the district cashed in some frequent flyer miles to mitigate some of those costs.
Was it really necessary for school staff to attend 259 conferences in one year, particularly when the district was partially operating on fund reserves?
Two of those conferences were focused on the radical concept of “white privilege.” One was the Pacific Educational Group conference in St. Louis (also described as the Summit for Courageous Conversations in the records), while the other was the White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.
The far-left “white privilege” crowd works hard to convince educators that minority students are the victims of “white privilege,” because public school curricula are designed by white adults for the benefit of white children.
Some have gone so far as to suggest that minority students should not be expected to be on time, because that’s not part of their culture, and that they should not be expected to accept the concept of hard work for individual gain, because that’s not part of their culture, either.
Of course those claims are beyond ridiculous, and themselves seem almost racist, despite the insistence of the “white privilege” people that they are trying to help minority children.
Observers have noted that, just under the surface, the “white privilege” radicals seem more intent on attacking the American business community and free market economics than they are in addressing educational issues.
Nevertheless, the St. Paul district spent a combined $59,487 to send employees to those two conferences in 2013-14.
The most expensive conference on the St. Paul travel itinerary was the Avid Summer Institute in San Diego. The St. Paul district spent a whopping $145,766 to send employees to that event, including $48,080 in registration fees, $45.399 in air fare, $43,231 in lodging, $5,298 on meals, $2,084 on taxis and $1,673 on miscellaneous expenses.
It would be interesting to find out what school staff learned at this event, and whether it was worth an investment of nearly $150,000.
The district sent employees to 20 different conferences in 2013-14 that cost at least $10,000.
Some of the other more interesting (and more questionable) conferences included the Green Schools National Conference in Sacramento ($4,408), the Culturally Responsive Teaching Conference in Leominster, Massachusetts ($4,347) and the Chinese Language & Culture Study Tour ($3,042).
EAGnews has learned through research that much of the pricey travel done by public school employees throughout the nation is funded with federal grants, and that may be the case in St. Paul.
But if it had to be spent at all, could that grant money have been used for more practical purposes within the St. Paul district, particularly since professional development is becoming increasingly accessible online?
The district just came out of years of painful budget cuts, and probably still has open staff positions to refill and student programs to restore.
The almost certain answer is that the grant money could only be used for travel purposes.
Taxpayers should ask “why?”