Records show two board members traveled too much

By Greg Gelpi

Although school board policy limits board member travel at $2,500, two board members have accumulated more than $2,500 less than nine months into the fiscal year, according to documents.

Board members Connie Kitchens and Carol Kellam were reimbursed for more than $2,500 so far this fiscal year, which began July 1, records show.

Kitchens charged $3,620.21 in expenses for the year, about 44 percent more than her allotted travel expenses.

Kellam ran up $2,932.55, spending more than 17 percent that the $2,500 cap set by board policy.

Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware came in third at $2,439.92 but so far has not exceeded the $2,500 limit.

Kitchens said there are "discrepancies" in the school system's financial records and she has spoken to Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis about correcting the discrepancies.

"There's a lot of discrepancies there," she said. "It makes it appear to the public that I'm just jetting everywhere."

Kitchens said that on some trips she used her personal credit card to charge her expenses as well as other board members' expenses. When she was reimbursed, the school system recorded all of the expenses as being hers, although it was only her credit card that was used.

She also said that expenses she incurred for traveling to Orlando, Fla., during the search for a superintendent shouldn't count toward her travel expenses, since it wasn't for board development.

"Board members shall be reimbursed for actual expenses incurred that are directly related to attendance at educational seminars, conventions and other special meetings," according to school board policy. "Reimbursement shall be limited to $2,500 per fiscal year for each Board member unless additional expenses are approved in advance by the Board."

Kitchens and Kellam each spent more on travel than six of the nine board members spent total, according to records. The total travel expenses for board members LaToya Walker, Linda Crummy, Bob Livingston, Barbara Wells, Ericka Davis and Allen Johnson, who took office in September, was $2,627.39.

The school board policy on board travel was adopted in 1987 and the $2,500 cap was added in 1990. No cap existed prior to that, and it hasn't changed since then.

The school board's policy committee discussed changing raising the limit at a March 18 meeting.

At first the committee discussed raising the limit, but settled on keeping the $2,500 limit. The committee will recommend to the full board that board members who exceed the $2,500 limit without prior board approval will not be reimbursed for the expenses.

"Sure I think there should be a limit, but I don't think this is a feasible limit," Ware said at the March 18 meeting.

"In my experience a board member has never tried to take a trip for a vacation," Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said at the meeting. "There is an existing pot, and the pot is not empty."

Crummy said that an increase in travel expenses would be bad timing considering the "budget crunch."

On March 22, the school board approved a plan that cut 51 teaching positions, 44 physical education positions, two orchestra teaching positions and two senior administrative positions. The list of cuts also included a 10 percent reduction in all departmental budgets. The plan was the school system's response to what could be a $25 million shortfall for fiscal year 2005 due to proposed state budget cuts.