While the Liberty County Board of Education in recent months has wrangled with complicated budget decisions, information from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts indicates that four of the seven board members were within the state’s top 25 for travel expenditures for fiscal year 2012.
During that year, the board spent almost $23,000 on travel. Board Chairwoman Lily Baker came in second statewide among board of education members for travel expenses in fiscal year 2012, with $5,960.71.
The only person ahead of her was former Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education member Lorelei L. Brady, with $6,023.16.
Former District 2 Liberty BoE member Charlie Frasier came in No. 6, with $4,823.14. Frasier lost his re-election bid in July 2012 to Carolyn Smith Carter.
Longtime board member Becky Carter came in 21st place, with $3,874.87 in board travel, while Verdell Jones was 25th with $3,527.20 in travel.
Board member Carol Guyett was No. 71, with $2,185.38 in travel expenses. Marcia Anderson, who often champions holding the line on travel, was No. 116, with $1,610.12.
Among the Liberty BoE, Harold Woods spent the least on travel in 2012, with $992.50.
During recent budget brainstorming sessions, district financial officer Jason Rogers solicited suggestions from within the school system for how the district can make efficient cuts. Reducing board-member travel and salaries was one of the suggestions, but the board did not take formal action Tuesday to limit its travel.
Instead, they vowed to "police themselves."
Rogers said the board’s travel in FY 2013 is about 17 percent less than the prior year. To date, the board has spent $16,885 in travel this fiscal year, with another $2,876 in mileage.
Board members respond
When reducing board-member salaries and travel came up during the board’s work session, Carter said, "What salary?"
The board laughed.
"That’s what I’m saying — we don’t get no salary. We don’t know what that is," Baker said.
After the meeting, the Courier asked Baker whether she realized that she expended the second-most in the state for board of education travel during FY 12.
"I attend conferences to learn and to bring information back and to make me a more effective board member. That is why I go to conferences …," Baker said. "I didn’t realize I was second in the state."
When asked whether learning she was second in the state would affect Baker’s travel frequency, she reiterated board already has curbed its spending.
Carter said her trips stem from her roles as a delegate on several committees, such as the Federal Relations Network, a role in which she represents education within the Georgia’s 1st U.S. Congressional district. She said she also serves on the National School Boards Association’s Southern Region nominating committee and formerly was the county’s representative to the Georgia School Boards Association.
Other trips have been related to mandatory trainings required by the state for board members, she said.
Jones joined the board in 2009, and she said she’s seized opportunities to learn more through conferences.
"The orientation was not good," Jones said. "I’ve served on other boards, but when you’re talking about schools and education and children, I don’t take this duty or assignment lightly. I’m going to be making decisions; I want to make sure that the decisions I make are informed decisions … you cannot lead blindly."
Jones added that some members travel more because others, like Woods, travel less — but she said their expenditures are within the board’s consolidated travel budget.
Woods said that because he does not fly, his travel is the most restricted, and he focuses primarily on meeting the annual training requirements for board mem-bers.
"I have learned more by attending conferences. It has helped me to be a better board chair than I could have ever learned had I stayed here and not gone to those conferences," Baker reiterated. "I learned about construction, about using construction managers, which this system had never done before, and brought it back and we implemented it. Same thing with Becky when she goes to hers; same thing with Ms. Jones."
How board members are compensated
Board members receive $500 monthly compensation and the chairwoman receives $710 per month as salary, according to Rogers.
In addition, members receive $128 per diem for each day they travel on board business more than 50 miles outside of the county. These payments run through payroll and are included in board-member salary amounts, Rogers said. Because board members do not all attend the same meetings, their salary amounts vary.
When on approved board travel, the board also can submit and be reimbursed for travel costs — such as lodging, meals and mileage — within allowable limits, according to the same regulations as all employees.
Under state guidelines, board members also are allowed to participate in various health-insurance coverage options, wherein the board member pays the employee portion and the district pays the employer portion.
According to the FY 2012 numbers, board Chairwoman Baker received $10,568 in salary.
Frasier received $7,664; Jones and Carter each received $7,536; Guyett received $7,408; Anderson received $7,280, and Woods received $6,512.
Rogers said staff members collectively have reduced their travel between 2012 and 2013 as well.
In 2012, staff and administrators spent $149,017 on travel. The 2013 number is about a 33 percent reduction, at $100,388, Rogers said.
There is little change in the mileage reimbursements for both years, which include local travel for school social workers and hospital/homebound teachers. The 2012 staff mileage was $63,315, and the 2013 is $64,386.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said staff and administrators have taken steps to reduce travel expenditures, such as attending fewer conferences and meetings or sending fewer representatives.
Among the 2012 figures, former director of curriculum Sandra Jones had the highest travel expenditure, with $8,065.94. She was No. 4 in the state for travel expenses among curriculum/instruction directors.
Scherer said Jones’ travel included training on Common Core curriculum changes, and participation in a National Professional Learning Consortium, a two-year professional development program.
She also traveled as required for a Department of Defense Education Activity grant and accompanying professional development that enabled the district to send delegates to the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement, or GLISI, Rogers said.
Rogers’ travel followed, with $7,624.70. He was No. 6 in the state for travel expenses among deputy/assistant/associate superintendents.
He said the majority of his travel relates to federal impact aid and training on the finance and human-resources software system.
"Jason’s is primarily because he attends the impact-aid conferences and does the lobbying in Washington for impact aid," Scherer said.
The same year, Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer’s travel expenses were $7,463.42. She was No. 22 in the state for travel expenses among superintendents.
"There are a certain number of required meetings that a superintendent needs to go to in order to stay current," Scherer said. "And my travel to the Georgia School Boards Association with the board and the travel to the State Superintendents Association meetings are just part of the job."
That year was one in which she attended the National School Superintendents Association meeting, she said. The district also gave presentations at the National School Boards Association conferences during two of Scherer’s her five years with Liberty, and the conference requires superintendents to be present for presenting districts.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley spent $1,206.67. Mary Alexander, the district’s assistant superintendent for student services, spent $1,741.83.