Metro East school board's expensive trip

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by Craig Cheatham / News 4 Investigates

KMOV.com

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 9:13 PM

Updated Friday, May 4 at 1:38 PM

(News 4 Investigates) -- News 4 continues our investigation into the Cahokia school board, which is spending more money on out of state travel than other district we examined in the St. Louis area.  

Last month, three Cahokia school board members arrived in Boston two days before the official start of the National School Boards Association annual conference in Boston. Board members Clifton Lovett and Larry Wynn brought their wives. They were joined by board President Peggy Shelton. The trip cost at least $7,584. We requested school board training and travel records from 23 local districts, and found that Cahokia spent more on that one trip than all but one board (Maplewood-Richmond Heights) spent on training and travel during an entire school year.

The financially troubled Cahokia district can't even afford to fix its rundown high school, but it board president Shelton insisted the expense was worth it, even though every presentation at the conference was available on the internet for free.

  Dr. Garrett Duncan, an Associate Professor at Washington University, who specializes in ethics in education, told me the Cahokia district can't justify that kind of expense unless it can show a direct benefit to students based on what the board members learned at the conference. The fact that it's a district with poor student performance, financial problems and past misspending make it difficult to defend. When I told Dr. Duncan all of the conference presentations were available on the internet for free his response was "Wow!"

When it comes to out of state travel, the Cahokia school board is in a class of its own. In 2009, 6 board members, including Shelton and Wynn, flew to Las Vegas for a three day conference that wasn't designed for board members. The trip, paid for with a government grant aimed at school improvement, cost taxpayers $10,612.

And, there have been repreated trips to Chicago for state and national conferences costing tens of thousands of dollars in recent years. During the current school year alone, Cahokia spent at least $15,645 on board training and travel. How does that compare to other districts? We received records from 23 local districts, half of them spent less than $3,000 this year. The closest to Cahokia was Maplewood-Richmond Heights, which will spend about $8,300, but much of the cost is tied to two trips, one to Boston, the other to Italy where the district will receive prestigious awards, and because of that Dr. Duncan says the expenses are justified. 

 The overwhelming majority of local districts didn't send anyone to the Boston conference. Here's a list of some of the districts and the amount spent on training and travel:

Clayton didn't spend a penny.

Ritneour spent $584.98.

Pattonville spent $3,694.51.

Belleville Township High School District spent $1,539.32.

Kirkwood spent $1,806.25.

Jennings spent $5,345.76.

Freeburg spent $5,614.40.

St. Louis City spent $144.18.

Parkway spent $618.99.

Alton spent $3,957.

Valley Park spent $4,042.68. 

When it comes to out of state travel, the Cahokia school board is in a class of its own. In 2009, 6 board members, including Shelton and Wynn, flew to Las Vegas for a three day conference that wasn't designed for board members. The trip, paid for with a government grant aimed at school improvement, cost taxpayers $10,612.

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