By Greg Gelpi
While school children struggle to safely cross the street because of budget cuts, a school official has been flying across the country on taxpayer money.
Clayton County Interim Superintendent William Chavis is in Reno, Nev., for another convention, yet this week members of the Clayton County Board of Education have been lobbying for money to pay for school crossing guards.
"Every time I go on a trip it benefits me," Chavis said and paused. "If it benefits me, it benefits the school district."
When asked about the cost of his four-day trip, Chavis replied, "Hell, I don't know."
He is attending the annual convention of the National Alliance of Black School Educators of which he is a charter member, he said, adding that he has been active in the organization for about 30 years. He won't know the total cost of the trip until after the trip is over.
"If the school board has a problem with it, I'll pay for it out of my pocket," Chavis said.
The school system benefits from the training he receives in superintendent conferences and workshops, he said.
This isn't the first cross-country trip for Chavis.
Within a few weeks of being named to the position, Chavis charged two nights at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta for $129 a night in February, according to documents. In March, he charged a $134 room at the Courtyard by Marriott in Atlanta.
Only days later, he flew with Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Nedra Ware to San Francisco.
The two tickets cost $1,359 after a $100 fee for changing a flight schedule. Chavis' hotel room for the trip was $894, and the cost of Ware's room was $721 for the three-night stay.
On the same trip, Ware incurred a $205 fee for canceling a room at the Argent Hotel, according to documents.
Chavis also disclosed bills in excess of $2,370 for members of the school board to attend a conference of the National School Board Association in June.
While Chavis is on a trip, Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton picks up the slack.
"Senior administrators are allowed to take a number of educationally oriented trips," Horton said, adding that officials spend about $5,000 each in travel expenses for a year.
Chavis contended that he has only spent $3,000 since being named interim superintendent in January, compared to previous superintendents who spent as much as $8,000 in a year, he said.
While Chavis prepared for his trip, board member Allen T. Johnson worked on getting school crossing guards for his constituents in the Forest Park area.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners reduced the number of school crossing guards from 53 to 34 for this fiscal year's budget, which left many schools with fewer guards and some without any guards. While last year 28 schools had guards, this school year only 18 schools had crossing guards. The reduction saved the county more than $110,000.
On Monday night the Forest Park City Council voted unanimously in favor of a general resolution on the hiring of crossing guards for the schools inside the city.
"They directed me to go out and hire new crossing guards and take the expense out of the prior year surplus, and that's the extent of it," Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall said.
The vote came after Forest Park resident Kathy Meza addressed the council about an incident in which she says her 8-year-old son was almost hit by a Georgia Power truck while he was on his way to Hendrix Drive Elementary School.
"I was watching the boys from the window. It looked like he had hit my child," Meza said Tuesday. "I want results and I want them immediately. Our time is going to run out. A child is going to get hit."
Hall said he is aware of the need for crossing guards but he is still researching the issue and could not comment further.
News Daily reporter Ed Brock contributed to this story.