When I raised the issue of travel expenses during the campaign last year, my opponent, Vicki Snell, called the money, “a drop in the bucket.” That comment was a clear insight into the board’s tax and spend policy, that is, “It’s only taxpayer dollars and there’s always going to be more, so let’s spend it.”
I took some time last week to review the travel expenses for the seven members of the school board and the superintendent.
There were quite a few expenses I would categorize as misdemeanors and only one I would call a felony. Some trustee and supt. expense savings are appreciated and should be encouraged.
Interestingly, it was Snell who ate a breakfast at a Target store on the road while attending the annual conference sponsored by the California School Board Assn. (CSBA) in San Francisco and who tried to share a room with another Trustee, presumably to save money (that doesn’t look like it happened, but the effort is appreciated). But Snell also paid $15 for Internet service in her room, which is surprising to anyone with a smart phone. Yelsey also paid $15 for hotel Internet privileges, but both Snell and Yelsey were outdone by board member Martha Fluor, who ordered Internet service for her entire stay, which cost taxpayers $54.
Hit the Road,
For almost everyone, taxis seem to be the transportation mode of choice. Trustee Walt Davenport seems to have no hesitation to use taxis whenever the mood strikes. for the CSBA conference, Davenport took taxis to and from his home to John Wayne airport, then took them to and from his hotel and the airport in San Francisco. Most of the others also took taxis in San Francisco to and from their hotels, but Davenport spent $82 for one of those trips, which is about double what one should pay. Heavy traffic may have accounted for that. How about a much cheaper shuttle, Walt?
The money for taxis to and from SFO to downtown San Francisco is not only wasteful spending, it is highly inefficient. BART trains leave SFO for downtown every 15 minutes. They never get stuck in traffic, would have dropped the trustees off very close to their hotel and would have cost only $8.65. But when it’s not your money, why should you care?
What most concerned me was jumping into taxis to travel to the conference from the hotel. The distance is just over a mile and as anyone who has been to San Francisco can tell you, a one-mile walk there is part exercise and part fun.
Kudos to Supt. Navarro, who flew into Oakland for the conference and took BART across the bay and ate breakfast one morning at a Walgreen’s for $9.27, which is about half of what most of the trustees paid each morning. But Navarro is also guilty of the only expense felony, charging taxpayers $694 to fly from the Long Beach airport to San Francisco for a separate conference. Why did Navarro fly out of Long Beach? Because according to the expense reports, that’s where he lives. Yes, the supt. of our school district, whose comp package is about $300,000, is not even a resident of Newport-Mesa. That may explain why taxpayers have not seen him at any after hours meetings on solar power or school fencing.
The superintendent of our schools should live in the school district. When he does not, he has no stake in the outcome of the many committees and commissions and other events that occur here that affect our students. For the money we’re paying him, living here not too much to ask.
Tipping is problematic. Tips ranged from a low of 10 percent for one meal to almost 30 percent for another.
As I wrote, the charges – except for the $694 flight – are misdemeanors. Drops in the bucket, right? Wrong. They are indicative of freestyle spending, one that could very well transfer to the really big dollars such as construction spending.
Freestyle spending is spending that has no rules or regulations. What is needed is discipline by way of a formal travel policy that dictates specifically what may be charged and what may not, how much to tip, and how much to spend for transportation, meals and lodging.
Don’t look for that written policy anytime soon. After all, these expenses are only a “drop in the bucket.”
BTW, there is a school board meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at 2985 Bear St., CM 92626