While facing declining sales tax collections this year and an anticipated budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, four school board members and the superintendent took a three-day, $10,000+ trip to Boston to attend the National School Board Association convention.
Board President Roland Verret and members Ginger Griffin, Marilyn LaSalle and Mike Taylor joined Superintendent Donald Aguillard at the conference April 21-23.
Registration for each was $895, for a total of $4,475; and airfare for each was $535, totaling $2,675. Hotel rooms were $199 per night at three or four nights per person. Assuming three nights per person, the total would be $2,985. Add $150 for transportation from the airport to the hotel, and the total cost so far is $10,285.
This amount does not include meals or additional conference sessions requiring registration fees. Those receipts have not been turned in yet.
When asked how the board justified spending $10,000 to go to a conference in the current economic climate, Aguillard replied via email:
“School board members typically attend the Louisiana School Board Association (LSBA) and/or National School Board Association (NSBA) convention annually. Note that only four of 11 school board members scheduled the NSBA convention. The conference brings school board members from across the country to discuss emerging educational topics, challenges, and opportunities. School board members attend general sessions, hear featured speakers, attend smaller breakout sessions, (and) visit with vendors to see educational products/services. School board members also dialogue with colleagues to discuss common issues.
“The $8,228 average for school board and superintendent ($2,057) travel represents 1/4 of a single teacher salary (not counting benefits). The figures represent 1/500 of the possible $5 million deficit in 2012-13. I focused my conference attendance on the following topics: virtual learning, credit recovery, bullying and cyberbullying. School board members likely also targeted sessions that will help them to make better informed decisions. Travel budgets will likely be reviewed by the school board during the upcoming budget discussions.”
The division of funds Aguillard refers to does not take into account receipts not turned in yet, which by his own account may total another $2,000.
However, when asked earlier in the month about budget considerations, all opportunities to reduce expenses were on the table.
“We are currently working to draft a considerations document in preparation for our general fund budget meeting. MFP funding for FY 2012-13 has been cut $2,563,915. We are also losing the EduJobs funding in the amount of $284,084. The district is facing the very real possibility of addressing a $5 million deficit should the school board take no action. Thus, we will be evaluating every opportunity to reduce expenses in the upcoming budget,” Aguillard said in an email dated April 13.