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Board outspending limit

By Trina Trice

The two leaders of the Clayton County Board of Education have already capped their allotted spending for the 2003 fiscal year having accrued more than $6,800 in reimbursed expenses.

Board members are only allowed to spend a certain amount if they expect to be reimbursed by the school system.

Reimbursement is limited to $2,500 per fiscal year for each board member unless additional expenses are approved in advance by the board, according to board policy.

The school fiscal year begins June 30 and ends July 31.

Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware has spent at least $4,205.90 since July 18, 2002, part of the 2003 fiscal year. Board Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens has spent $2,638.30 for the same period.

Ware's expenses were in addition to the $650 monthly salary she receives as chairwoman. The other seven board members earn $600 a month.

Board members are reimbursed for the expenses they incur while attending educational seminars, conventions, and other special meetings. Reimbursable expenses include those for transportation if traveling out of the county, registration and other related fees, "reasonable" living expenses, and lodging.

Taxpayers spent at least $750 to send Ware, Kitchens, and Kellam to a conference for the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials in Savannah in June.

Since most of the conference's seminars focused on voting issues, some may wonder why board members should be reimbursed for attending.

"There are other memberships each and every other board member has," Ware said. "Other board members are members of (other organizations). The (conferences) we attend are in compliance with SACS. SACS said we need to get various training. I urge other board members to do the same. I have no further comment beyond that."

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the school system on probation due the misconduct of board leadership. One of the conditions for getting off of probation requires that all board members become "properly oriented and trained for the work of the board."

Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, civil rights activist, president Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and chairman of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, was a keynote speaker at the GABEO conference.

Lowery, along with GABEO president, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta attended a July 8 board meeting with a proclamation supporting the controversial leadership of Ware and Kitchens.

At that same meeting Board members Ericka Davis, Barbara Wells, Linda Crummy and Dr. Bob Livingston walked out to protest other board members resistance to starting a new national superintendent search.

Following the July 8 meeting, the school board attended a two-day retreat at the Georgia School Boards Association office in Lawrenceville. Ware, Kitchens, Kellam and member LaToya Walker stayed at a hotel. While Ware, Kitchens, and Kellam racked up a hotel bill of $467.82 for three nights, Walker's bill was $77.97 for one night.

Crummy, formerly but no longer considered an ally to Ware and Kitchens, did not stay in a hotel.

"We're vigilant of the taxpayers' money," she said about herself and Davis. "We thought it was economical" to not stay in a hotel.

The person or persons responsible for monitoring board spending appears to be the board.

"To my knowledge there are no penalties," said acting Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton.

Lee Davis (no relation to Ericka Davis), chief financial officer for Clayton County Schools, believes it isn't unusual for a board member to overspend.

"I'm willing to bet someone's gone over before," he said. "(The board) is self-governing. We've considered them self-regulating."

Davis does not monitor the board's spending habits, nor does he alert board members of their own or of others spending unless requested to provide such information.

"I haven't been directed to do that (on his own)," Davis said.

Most of the board members' expenses were for membership dues and conference fees paid to such organizations as the Georgia School Boards Association, National School Boards Association, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators.