Money was the driving topic of conversation Thursday at the Liberty County Board of Education’s work session.
At the start of the meeting, BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker requested an amendment to the agenda that would move two items, school visits and board travel/per diem, from discussion items to action items.
In a 4-3 vote, the board approved eliminating the 10-day per member restriction on per diem travel days for time at workshops and conferences.
Previously, each of the seven members had 10 days of per diem, which meant a total of 70 days were allocated for the entire board.
Board members are reimbursed $128 per day in addition to reimbursable expenses when on an approved overnight trip more than 50 miles outside the county, according to Jason Rogers, assistant superintendent for administrative services. The budget amount for 70 per diem days is $8,960.
In discussion before the vote, BoE member Becky Carter opposed the change.
“I was against it the first time, and I’m against it still,” Carter said. “I just feel like these are public service positions and not positions for financial gain; and I think 10 days is more than ample for anybody to travel.”
The chairwoman receives $710 per month for her position, and the other members receive $500 per month, Rogers said after the meeting. Annually, their compensation is a combined $50,520.
Marcia Anderson also said she opposed to the change.
“We have not purchased books in six years. We have fogged windows at schools that need to be replaced … We have not replaced some para-pros who left,” Anderson said. “We’ve asked all of our employees over the last two years to take furlough days. Teachers are not allowed to take field trips very much. We have denied playgrounds and playground equipment...
“In my opinion, it would be absolutely ridiculous for us to increase our expenditures on travels while denying schools items such as that,” she said.
She added that an upcoming National School Board Association conference that Baker, Vice Chairwoman Verdell Jones and member Charlie Frasier are attending in Boston will cost an estimated $10,000.
The current budget for reimbursable expenses is $29,000 for travel and mileage and $12,000 for registration and conference fees.
Member Harold Woods said members should be able to travel as needed within “common sense” guidelines. “I don’t see all seven board members going to this place and that place … you can have one or two go and bring (the information) back.”
Member Carol Guyett proposed maintaining the 70-day board limit, but reallocating per diem days for individual members. For example, she said Woods does not fly, which precludes him from visiting some of the longer conferences.
Some roles, such as the legislative liaison, require more dedicated time than others, Guyett added. She suggested the board address requests on an individual basis if travel should need to exceed the 70 days.
“I realize that different projects in our school system come from different funding, such as playground equipment and things of that sort …,” Baker said. “I will not be a board chairman and not know what’s going on in other systems … I will not be an ignorant board chair. … and teachers were buying equipment out of their own pockets back when the economy was not this way.”
Baker, Jones, Woods and Frasier voted in favor of the motion. Carter, Anderson and Guyett opposed.
With the elimination of the 10-day per member limit, Rogers said any board member travel expenditures beyond the budgeted amount likely would come from other line items within the board member’s departmental budgets or from the fund balance.
The second item moved to the action agenda, changing the official time for school board visits from 11 a.m. to 9 a.m., passed with Charlie Frasier opposed.
The board also revisited the ranking of energy management consulting firms, a matter that was tabled during the Feb. 14 meeting.
It was listed on Thursday’s agenda as a discussion item, but the board amended the agenda again to make it an action item at the request of Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley.
The selected firm’s role is to complete an energy assessment and provide a guide to reducing costs. The rankings are: first, Heery International; second, Nextera Energy Solutions; and third, Georgia Power.
After discussion, the rankings carried unanimously. With the board’s approval, staff will enter into negotiations with the firms in order of preference — but the board will have to approve the final contract for services.