Millions spent on travel for city and county school employees - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Millions spent on travel for city and county school employees

Memphis City Schools employees traveled to 37 different states last year to attend education conferences and training classes. Memphis City Schools employees traveled to 37 different states last year to attend education conferences and training classes.

(WMC-TV) - Memphis City Schools employees traveled to 37 different states last year to attend education conferences and training classes.

"What's really important is to make sure you make wise choices about the travel, and we feel like we do that," said Memphis City Schools Executive Director John Barker.

Last year, 99 city school employees went to San Francisco, 41 to Seattle, and 33 to Las Vegas.  Memphis City Schools spent $2.3 million on travel during the school year.

"We go where those conferences are, and they rotate across the country in cities every year," said Barker.

Memphis and Shelby County Schools administrators said local, state, and federal tax dollars spent on school travel represents a small fraction of their overall budget.

"We really have been good stewards of the tax dollars," said Mike Tebbe with Shelby County Schools.

The Shelby County Schools district is about one-third the size of the city district.  County schools spent just over $486,000 in travel last year.

"When you can expose people to any number of best practices used around the country, we found out that it really pays dividends," said Tebbe.

"Often times, especially for where we are relative to our innovative programming and reform agendas, we are leading some of those conferences," said Barker.

Action News 5 investigators asked if there were limitations to how often an employee can travel or what they can spend out of town.  A language coordinator for city schools spent more than $16,000 traveling to 11 states last year.  A supervisor for county schools spent more than $3,300 on one trip.

"Everything has to be pre-approved by the department head, then there has to be a form filled out for an estimate for the reimbursal," said Tebbe.

"Absolutely," said Barker.  "Checks and balances up and down the line on travel."

Employees are reimbursed for flights, lodging, registration fees, rental cars, mileage, and $35 a day for meals.  Supervisors can and do authorize expenses that exceed their own set of rules.

There is no set limit for how many trips a city or county schools employee can take, but administrators insist every dollar is carefully tracked.

"It is doing nothing but enhancing the instructional capabilities of our teachers and staffs within the system," said Tebbe.

Educators said it is not enough to hire good employees, you must continue to train them.

Both districts said airfare costs are limited to tourist class and that standard hotel rates are set by the US General Services Administration.

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