Some educators love getting out of town
On Wednesday, at the apparent urging and/or request of Board member Tony Dublino, the Eastern Sierra Unified School District Board met and discussed its district travel policy.
According to Dublino, “[travel] expenses have ballooned over the past few fiscal years.” He pushed for the Board to more concretely define what constitutes “actual and necessary travel expense.”
While the Board agreed to set an annual travel budget and review travel expenses on a quarterly basis, the general consensus of Dublino’s fellow board members is that Superintendent Don Clark’s travel expenses are reasonable.
As the District’s Business Manager Mollie Nugent said, “Sending people places is a value judgment.”
And Board member Jimmy Little firmly believes there is value in sending management and staff other places to “gain an awareness of the world around us.”
In the past, said Little, when the District was in financial straits, “we tightened our belts and made choices.” But currently, the District is a bit more flush, and during these times, he said he encourages staff training and development if there’s a desire for it.”
He said the Board has also encouraged the Superintendent to be an advocate for the District statewide, and to take on roles in various state organizations.
Clark currently serves as the ACSA (Association of California School Administrators) Small School District Committee Chairman and was a featured panelist at the ACSA Symposium held in January in Monterey.
Mono County Office of Education Superintendent Stacey Adler is similarly involved in statewide educational organizations. She currently serves as President of the CCSESA (California County Superintendents Educational Services Association).
As Clark explained, if you direct someone to get involved, after a few years, they’re going to start getting tapped to serve in leadership positions, and “you end up having to spend some time on it.” So if you ask for an advocate, look out.
Trouble is, how does one place a value on a local Superintendent’s involvement in the state educational hierarchy? As Dublino challenged to his fellow Board members, “Educate me as to the benefit to the kids in this district regarding Superintendent travel. Do we really influence state policy? Is this the best use of Don Clark’s time? Two schools need a principal.”
*In addition to serving as Superintendent of the District, Clark also doubles as principal of two of its schools. The District serves Coleville, Lee Vining, Bridgeport, June Lake and Benton.
Board member Bob Tems observed, “You can’t put a value on his lobbying. It’s not tangible.”
Little chimed in, “Don’s brought a lot of ideas back [from his travels] … “
While this may be a bit of an imperfect science, The Sheet asked four school districts (the two County Districts in addition to Eastern Sierra Unified and Mammoth Unified) about its code 5200 expenditures.
The California School Accounting Manual describes code 5200 expenditures as “travel and conference.”
In 2016-2017, Mammoth Unified’s Business Manager Brooke Bien said the District operated on a $14 million budget and spent approximately $49,000 on travel and conferences.
Eastern Sierra Unified’s Business Manager Mollie Nugent said her district operates on about a $10 million budget. In 2016-2017, it spent approximately $119,000 on travel and conferences.
County Offices of Education spending on travel and conferences is a bit harder to quantify just because some of that travel is related to training that County offices provide to satellite districts.
As Inyo County Office of Education (ICOE) Business Manager Tom Snyder explained, “we have a fairly large child development department (i.e. child care providers, preschool, etc). This department has been awarded grants to be the regional lead on providing training to preschool teachers in San Bernardino county. Therefore, there are also significant amounts of our travel that are related to provided training as opposed to attending training or workshops.”
Inyo County’s travel budget is further complicated by its charter school management, which Snyder broke out separately.
From July 1, 2017 to the present, ICOE has spent approximately $130,000. About $73,000 of that was related to the child development fund referenced above. Another $21,400 was ascribed to charter school management.
The 2017-2018 yearly budget line item for Superintendent travel was $7,000, of which Superintendent Lisa Fontana had used $4,300 to date.
It’s annual travel/conference budget is $238,000.
Mono County provided The Sheet its warrant register from December 1, 2016 through November 30, 2017.
The Sheet asked for a separate breakdown of 5200 code expenditures, but as this was not provided as of press time, Lunch did it by hand.
The estimate: Mono County Office of Education spent about $110,000 during the above-referenced time period on travel.
Eastern Sierra Unified Superintendent Don Clark acknowledged Wednesday that some of that travel expense may be related to services rendered to ESUSD. “MCOE provides a lot of staff development [for us],” he said.
The Sheet estimates that Superintendent Stacey Adler, Assistant Superintendent Tammy Nguyen and then-Human Resources Manager Jenni Huh spent about $45,000 in travel among the three of them during the above-referenced time period.
ICOE’s annual budget is approximately $12 million. MCOE’s annual budget is $5.2 million.
One interesting difference just between MUSD and MCOE: According to Business Manager Brooke Bien, MUSD does not pay for mileage reimbursement when its staff travels. You can drive your own car, but the District will only pay for gasoline.