JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - 3 On Your Side requested identical travel expense information from school districts in the tri-county area and received detailed documents from all of them. We've found that staff members are on the go, getting reimbursed for in-state travel and taking plane trips out-of-state for professional development. Students travel too.
In Madison County, our state's fourth largest school district, federal funds pay for roughly 50 percent of travel expenses. It's the same in the state's third largest school district, Rankin County.
"40-50 percent is federal, and 25-30 percent is local activity funds usually for students and staff," said Kevin Brantley, director of finance for the Rankin County School District. "The other 25-30 percent is local tax dollars being spent sending teachers to conferences, etc."
Our investigation revealed that in the last complete school year, Madison County Public Schools spent $2.91 per student, per month on travel. The amount included staff travel, and, in some cases, student travel for sports and other enrichment.
Jackson Public Schools spent the second largest amount: $2.07 per student, per month in the 2008-09 school year.
Rankin County came in at $1.77 per student, per month for the last complete school year.
"Our budget was $175 million in fiscal year 2009. That travel percent represents 0.2 percent," Brantley said.
We asked Brantley about a trip to the plush Opryland Hotel in Nashville back in 2007-08, a trip that cost in the $20,000 range.
"We sent 40-50 teachers to improve MCT scores, to help with curriculum. We send these teachers, and when they come back they train the teachers we have here," he said.
Here's an example of travel in Madison County: A school principal spent four nights at the Marriott Riverwalk San Antonio in January 2008 for a convention, posting an $862 bill.
Madison Schools Superintendent Mike Kent told 3 On Your Side that despite the district's size, it had the third lowest administrative costs in the state. Kent said, as superintendent, he only takes one trip per year. And, in light of state budget issues, travel has been curtailed and there's a freeze on staff travel from now until the end of the year.
It's the same in Rankin County. "We said any out of state travel had to have the approval of the superintendent (Lynn Weathersby)," Brantley said.
Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lonnie Edwards declined an interview and would not comment for our story.
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