TULSA, Okla. – The following excerpt from a news report was published on Bloomberg.com in October, 2013:
“In Tulsa, state support for the 40,000-student district fell to $151 million in 2012-2013 from $168.5 million in 2007-2008. The school system, which grew by more than 2,000 students during that time, expects to lose another $1 million in aid this year, finance director Joe Stoeppelwerth said.
“To deal with the reduction, the district closed 14 schools, getting rid of traditional middle schools entirely, Superintendent Keith Ballard said. It cut 250 teaching positions and 150 administrative and support jobs. Private donations and an insurance settlement are helping sustain dozens of other teacher posts, he said.
“In high schools, many advanced placement classes and electives have disappeared. Some classes have swelled to more than 40 students as administrators try to keep lower numbers in courses needed for graduation tests, Hale Principal Caleb Starr said.
“In Tulsa’s elementary schools, some classes have 30 students — 10 more than the state allowed before the economic downturn.”
The report seems to suggest that money was tight in the Tulsa, Oklahoma school district headed into the 2013-14 school year.
Since that was the case, how did district officials justify spending $223,887 on hotel lodging for employees that year, or $158,174 on air fare and other forms of transportation?
The Tulsa district had 241 separate transactions in 2013-14 for accommodations at hotels throughout the nation, done mostly through Commercial Card Services.
Some of the trips got pretty pricey, and involved stays at some pretty swanky hotels. A total of $2,722 was spent on four nights at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Another $3,394 went for five nights at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.
Seven staffers went to the National Title 1 Conference in San Diego. Six of them apparently stayed at one hotel for $5,700 while one stayed at another for $1,130.
The district spent $5,216 on lodging for tree staffers for three nights in New York. It also spent $3,609 for school board members to attend a National School Board Association event.
Yet another $4,943 was spent for 13 staffers to spend one night apiece at the Wyndham Jade Hotel in Orlando. That equates to nearly $400 per employee. Were there any decent hotels around that charged less than that?
Then there was the trip New Orleans for 11 employees to spend three nights, at a cost of $9,114.
Those are just a few of the many pricey trips taken by school employees in 2013-14.
District records also show transactions for 163 transportation-related transactions, mostly for air fare, that year.
Most of the hotel stays and transportation costs appear to be for staff members attending various types of educational conferences.
Obviously educators benefit, to one degree or another, from attending conferences and networking with other educators. But the fact is that professional development is becoming much more accessible online all the time, at a fraction of the cost that it takes to travel.
Was that fact considered in Tulsa?
Even if much of the district’s travel was funded through grants – which is the case in many school districts – the spending is still questionable.
If the feds want to give school districts that kind of money, they should allow school officials to spend it on their most pressing needs – which apparently have been many in the Tulsa district lately – rather than mandating year after year of expensive travel.