Memphis City School board travel

Target Five investigates Memphis City School board Travel. The board spent thousands of your tax dollars for an educational field trip to California. At a time when money is tight, Memphis City Schools recently sent all nine board members to a four-day conference in California, at considerable cost to taxpayers. We went, too, to see what the board and taxpayers got for that investment. The National School Board Association calls its annual conference "boot camp" for those who run the nation's schools. Barbara Hunter, Natl. School Board Assoc. said, "School Board members typically are lay people. They don't come to the position with a lot of education background. This is why these type of professional development experiences are so important." They're important enough for the cash-strapped Memphis City School District to send all nine board members to San Diego for four days of workshops. "We paid everything together. It's $5,600 for nine of us." But that $5,600 covered just the registration fee. Taxpayers wound up footing the $13,000 bill for the hotel, airfare, and meals of seven of the nine board members. Only Michael Hooks and Dr. Jeff Warren paid their own way. Wanda Halbert, MCS Board President said, "Was it worth it to the taxpayers? Absolutely. And I think now is a time where the board as a team can come together and learn some of the strategic goals and objectives that are used nationally." The board's strategy--divide and conquer the conference's nearly 400 sessions on everything from boosting student achievement to maximizing minimum budgets. The first morning, we stopped by nearly 20 workshops. But we didn't see a single Memphis City School board member. Turns out the School Board members were at the Marriott Hotel for a breakfast sponsored by the Tennessee School Boards Association, scheduled the same time as dozens of workshops. So of dividing and conquering, all nine school board members opted to attend the breakfast instead of workshops on topics like leadership, school security, raising test scores and redistricting. Sara Lewis, MCS Board member said, "We had to eat somewhere, so we went and we ate, then we went to our sessions, or I mean, to as many session as we could." Board members say the workshops they DID attend were worth the money spent on the trip. Tomeka Hart, MCS Board member said, "When we come back to our community with the things that we have learned, the knowledge that we have, the processes that we have, it's going to make a great difference." But it's a difference leaders in other districts chose to make with fewer taxpayer dollars. "The cost impact of coming to San Diego was just too much." It was too much for the Shelby County School Board. Board President David Pickler was the only member from that district to attend the conference. And, he did it on his own dime. Pickler said, "I think it's just very difficult for me to authorize spending money like that for myself when we're having to lay people off." Turns out Memphis City Schools sent more board members to San Diego than any other district in our area, large or small. Little Rock Schools picked up the tab for three board members, the superintendent and one staff member to attend the conference. West Memphis sent and paid for two board members. But Metro Nashville Schools split the cost with the only board member it sent. DeSoto County sent two board members, but only paid for one. Tipton and Fayette Counties didn't send anyone. Because of the hefty price tag, Board President Wanda Halbert said she expected board members to attend as many of the conference's workshops as possible. But we found one board member who did not. Tonight at 10 we'll tell you who. And wait till you see where our cameras caught him.