California School Districts Send Employees on Pricey Trips, Courtesy of the Taxpayers

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(entrepreneur.com)

California taxpayers are starting to realize a sad reality about public education that EAGnews has harped on for years: public schools spend millions on employee travel, much of it to luxurious out-of-state destinations.

The Sacramento Bee reports that school districts in the Sacramento area alone spent $10 million on employee travel in the 2012-13 school year, a substantial increase over previous years that was fueled by a massive 2012 tax hike.

In other words, California’s public schools are using their increase in school funds to send teachers and administrators all across the United States for “professional development conferences” and other training at high-end resorts.

“District leaders said the trips were necessary to prepare teachers and administrators for the new Common Core State Standards, as well as advanced programs such as the International Baccalaureate track that some schools have added to attract high-caliber students,” the Bee reports. “They also said they had to address a backlog of training needs after slashing travel budgets during the state budget crisis.”

The total travel expenses for several districts in the Sacramento area are astounding.

The San Juan Unified School District, for example, spent about $1.1 million on employee travel to conferences. In the Twin Rivers district, it was $894,000. Sacramento City Unified spent $744,000. At Elk Grove Unified – $655,000.

Even smaller districts like El Dorado Union High School District shelled out big bucks for employee travel. That district, while only spending a measly $340,000, topped the Bee’s list for the most travel spending relative to the student population at $54 per pupil.

Other big spending districts, according to the Sacramento Bee:

• Roseville Joint Union High spent more than $20,000 to send staff to conferences outside California. They stayed at the Renaissance Eden Roc near South Beach in Miami; Hilton hotels in New York City, New Orleans and Portland, Ore.; and the Waldorf Astoria in Naples, Fla. In California, staff also stayed overnight at the Sanctuary Beach Resort near Monterey and at the Village at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe.

• Twin Rivers Unified spent more than $30,000 on out-of-state hotel bills. Most of the funds paid for hotel rooms for 43 members and teachers at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino in Incline Village, Nev., one of the most expensive large hotels in the region. Other hotels used by Twin Rivers staff included The Fairmont in San Francisco, Disney Paradise Pier in Anaheim and the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center near Washington, D.C. The district spent almost $7,000 for several staff members to attend a conference at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

• Natomas Unified spent about $17,000 on out-of-state conferences, including trips to Memphis, Tenn., St. Petersburg, Fla., Miami Beach, Houston and Austin, Texas. They spent $1,200 on hotel bills for two staff members staying at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim and $900 for a staff member stay at the Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn.

EAGnews has documented similarly ridiculous price tags for employee travel in school districts across the nation for a series titled “Where Your School Dollars Go,” including six-figure expenses for districts in Toledo, Ohio; Tucson, Ariz.; Philadelphia; Oakland, Calif.; Louisville, Ky.; Rochester, N.Y.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Camden, N.J.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Newark, N.J. and numerous other locations.

School leaders typically justify the insane travel spending by reasoning that much of the money comes from federal or state grants, which, of course, are still paid for by taxpayers. They also attempt to downplay the expenses by emphasizing that conference attendees typically receive a reduced rate for lodging.

Regardless, EAGnews has repeatedly questioned the need for such large travel budgets, especially considering that modern technology allows educators to attend virtual seminars and other training remotely.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, posed the same question when contacted by the Bee.

“He said districts should take advantage of webinars and online coursework at a cheaper cost,” the Bee reports. “His organization opposed a successful 2012 statewide tax hike that Gov. Jerry Brown and education groups pitched as a school funding initiative.”

And while some school leaders in Sacramento contend part of the travel cost is due to needed training for implementing the federal Common Core standards, local officials said that travel is unnecessary.

County schools chief David Gordon told the Bee the Sacramento County Office of Education offers a host of Common Core classes for educators locally.

“We will arrange it at a price that is far cheaper than an out-of-town course,” he said.

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