Bulletin editorial: Keep School Board travel openDistrict 833 School Board members should have a restrained approach to using public funds for out-of-state travel, but take advantage of opportunities to learn about education issues and initiatives happening elsewhere. And then they should explain how those practices could help students here.
District 833 School Board member Jim Gelbmann is not one to hide his opinion on issues, and he recently offered a candid take on the board's policy permitting out-of-state travel and conference attendance. Gelbmann said he once attended a National School Boards Association convention and found it of little benefit. He seemed to suggest a change in the board's travel policy is in order.
There can be value to the local district in allowing board members to attend education conferences out of state, and the costs traditionally have been limited, so the board should not prohibit such expenses. However, since taxpayers are footing the bill for this travel board members who attend conferences should at the very least publicly report on their findings. Doing so at a subsequent televised board meeting is a reasonable expectation.
Board member travel certainly is not the most pressing issue facing the district, and there are no allegations that the policy has been abused, but the topic was raised during a recent workshop and merits discussion.
The district has a detailed yet concise policy for out-of-state travel. The policy, which covers elected board members as well as district employees, makes clear how public funds can – and cannot – be used.
Turns out board members use their budgeted travel funds sparingly. The board budgeted $3,000 this year – from a roughly $149 million operating budget – for member travel and conference participation. Administrators say often the full budgeted amount is not spent. There is no policy limiting the number of board members who participate in a conference outside Minnesota, but typically anywhere from zero to three members travel out of state each year. (In addition, board members attend conferences in Minnesota. Most of those costs are picked up by the Minnesota School Boards Association, of which South Washington County School is a dues-paying member.)
Like other elected officials, board members bring varied backgrounds with them. Some have experience in education while others do not. They should have a restrained approach to using public funds for out-of-state travel, but take advantage of opportunities to learn about education issues and initiatives happening elsewhere. And then they should return and explain how those practices could be applied to help District 833 students and the broader community.