9/28/11 School board split on expense policy

School board split on expense policy
Some members think $2,800 allowance is too much
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 9/28/11     
Reprinted with permission.

   Failing to reach a consensus, Alamance-Burlington Board of Education members tabled a policy about compensation for expenses.

   A proposed policy the board discussed during a Monday night meeting allows each of its seven members to spend as much as $2,800 each year for continuing education at conferences, workshops, seminars, conventions and “similar meetings.”

   Board members could spend more with approval from the rest of the board, or if the additional money “came from another member’s continuing education account with that member’s written permission.”

   The proposed policy would allow board members to “roll over” unused money for one year to be added to the following year’s allocation for training-related travel.

   Board member Patsy Simpson argued the maximum amount allowed for travel for each member is “excessive” and said she doesn’t like the provisions that allow board members to share money with each other or roll it over to the next year.

   “I don’t think we should be able to do anything more than our teachers and classified employees do,” she said. While acknowledging large amounts of money have been spent on teacher training, especially for educators early in their careers, Simpson said teachers don’t have access to that much money “for classes of their choosing.”

   Referring to a state law that requires school board members to have 12 hours of training a year, Simpson said, “We can get that done … in a way that would not require that kind of money.”

   Jackie Cole, the board’s chairwoman, argued in favor of allowing board members discretion in the type of training they want to get.

   The $2,800 allowed per member, she said, is based on the current amount budgeted for school board training divided by seven, the number of members on the board.

   “By no means does that mean a board member has to spend that much money,” she said.

   Board attorney Trey Allen said the policy sets $2,800 as a maximum, and during any budget year the school system administration could recommend and school board members could approve spending less.

   The board’s decision to table the policy was partly because Steve Van Pelt, its vice chairman, was absent from the meeting. He had researched other systems’ policies relating to training and its costs. Cole said he might be able to provide further information on why sharing funds among board members or rolling over money from one year to the next would be beneficial.

   Board member Tony Rose said he agrees with Simpson the $2,800 amount is too high when Allen said it includes only continuing education and not additional events such as Chamber of Commerce retreats.

   The policy was on the board’s Monday night agenda for a first reading — meaning if the board had approved it, it would have required a second vote in October before going into effect.

   Toward the end of the board’s discussion, Rose made a motion in favor of a modified version of the proposed policy. His motion was for a policy that reduced the $2,800 maximum to $2,000 while eliminating the sharing and rollover provisions.

   Simpson seconded the motion. She and Rose voted for it, with Cole, Mary Erwin, Brad Evans and Kristen Moffitt voting against it.

   Moffitt argued in favor of leaving the proposed policy as it is, saying it would make it more likely board members could attend a national conference and get ideas that could help the Alamance-Burlington system.

   “It’s for the good of the system,” she said. Erwin said she agreed with Moffitt.

   Taking into account the cost of registration, lodging and airfare, Cole said, a national conference is expensive, but could benefit the system by exposing Alamance-Burlington school board members to ideas from other parts of the country.

   Evans said the board needs to discuss the policy more before deciding what to do.