CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Three local school districts spent nearly a million dollars total in travel at the end of the school year.
We checked through spending reports to see where everybody was going and why. In March, April and May spending reports and credit card reports, we pulled anything related to flights, hotels, travel and conferences. We did not include food expenditures due to the locations of those charges being ambiguous.
DD2 spent $172,134 on items specifically categorized as “travel” plus nearly $80,000 on travel expenditures for “pupil activities.”
Berkeley County schools recorded at least $235,061 in those three months on travel-related expenses.
Charleston County School District’s travel-related expenses were at least $456,583 for March, April and May.
$61,049 of the total was mileage reimbursement.
CCSD Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait receives a $1,000 monthly automobile allowance, according to her contract.
CCSD spokesperson Andy Pruitt said travel is budgeted, pre-approved and only allow for official business.
“Not everything that can be learned about education is in Charleston County,” Pruitt said. “There are places all around our country. Conferences, locations such as other school districts, where we need to find that information and those best practices that are going to lead to success in the classroom.”
He said travel budgets and prioritizing travel is mostly up to the department heads and principals. Out-of-state travel is approved by the superintendent herself.
Travel cost about $110,409 for employees and students to travel to cities such as Orlando, New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Diego in those last three months of school.
One administrator chaperoned a student chorus trip to Hawaii, which cost about $3,000. Students tend to fundraise for many of their trips, and the district might cover the cost of employees who need to attend and chaperone.
A $1,500 flight expense caught our attention. It was an American Airlines plane ticket to send a staffer across the pond. The district said Jessica Richards, Elementary Literacy and Read to Success Coordinator, was accepted to lead a panel discussion at the Leadership for Professional Learning Symposium in June. It was held at Cambridge University in England.
CCSD said Richards was awarded a scholarship from the University of Florida to assist with fees associated with the even so the district covered the cost of the flight. Pruitt said her involvement was an honor.
“That’s pretty huge. I would love to have known about that,” said Cindy Bohn Coats, a Charleston County Schools board member.
She’d like to know more about the long-term benefits after travel and conferences.
“I really don’t like that we have to approve a budget and then we don’t ever get to talk about how that money benefited. So I would love to have some sort of report that says in the 18/19 school year, X number of people attended these conferences. Here’s why we chose these and what they learned. Here’s what it’s going to do for our students in August.”
Coats looked through the travel spending reports we pulled and she didn’t find anything too alarming.
She said she wished the line item descriptions were more detailed; it’s hard to distinguish whether hotels and flights were for conferences or other events, how many people attended, and which expenses are connected to the same activities. The expenditures are not categorized as “travel” so it’s hard for the public to tally an exact amount spent based.
“If there are 12 people going to this hotel, I think it ought to be very obvious to you and to me that’s where the conference was. And I don’t see that,” Coats said.
Coats and Pruitt both also pointed out that the district is sometimes required to send employees to specific conferences or professional development as part of federal funding rules.
Head Start funding for example, Pruitt said, mandates such attendance and therefore travel is required.
“In the end, what we’re all about it making sure we’re providing a safe, secure, productive learning environment for our students. Well, the information and advice and training they receive at these locations can lead to that,” Pruitt said.