Fort Worth school board members collectively spent more than $82,000 traveling to conferences, workshops and other national and local events during the year ended June 30, according to records studied by Star-Telegram reporter Yamil Berard for a report in Sunday’s newspaper (“Fort Worth’s school trustees spent thousands more on travel last year”).
That’s a lot. It’s more than board members typically spent annually between 2006 and 2014, an average of $45,000 a year.
By themselves, the numbers mean little. In 2014-15, the Fort Worth school district operated on a general fund budget of almost $697 million, meaning board travel expenditures were next to nothing as a share of the whole.
Still, district residents expect school board members to be frugal with taxpayer money. They expect a lot of bang for their buck.
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In the case of district travel, it means those trustees should come home with ideas that could help them improve Fort Worth schools. As school people, it’s all about the students.
Some of the reasons cited for these expenditures don’t quite hold up.
Trustee Norman Robbins, whose $5,468 spent on travel for the year was not one of the highest totals, said if trustees do not take part in national discussions, “you’re not able to get Fort Worth the attention that you might be able to garner otherwise.”
Progress in the district is measured in terms such as the reading ability of its third-graders, math and science achievements of all its students, closing achievement gaps and graduating students who are college- and career-ready.
It’s not about getting attention.
But neither is some of the criticism fair.
“I’d be curious to hear how cocktail parties in [Washington,] D.C. help the reading proficiency of fourth- and third-graders,” said Ross Kecseg, North Texas director for Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. There’s no reason to believe that all a trustee does on these trips is attend cocktail parties.
And some of the justifications trustees give are solid.
Board President Jacinto Ramos Jr. is the biggest travel spender, at $24,054.35 for the year. He ran for the board in 2013 saying he wanted to be a visible leader, and some of his spending is to attend events like regional soccer and band competitions.
Ramos and Trustees Ashley Paz ($11,807) and Christene Moss ($16,975) have gone on trips to promote the presidential initiative My Brother’s Keeper, which aims to expand minority boys’ access to better preschools and advanced classes, and to try to prevent grade retention, suspensions and expulsions.
Results are what matters. Trustees who travel should be able to point to results in local schools.