Sin City, also known as Las Vegas, proved irresistable to the Cahokia School Board. Last year, six board members flew to Vegas for a three day conference, even though it wasn't required, and the conference wasn't designed for board members. The trip, paid for with a government grant aimed at school improvement, cost taxpayers $10,612. Six board members went on the trip, including Larry Wynn, Willie Baxton, Yvette McFadden, Peggy Shelton, Mary Ann Spicer, and Linda Stults. The only Board member who didn't go was Rich Sauget.
Wynn told me "they said we were required to take seminars and that's why I went." Later in our interview, Wynn emphasized again that seminars are "required." But in the state of Illinois local school Board members aren't required to get professional development or training of any kind, according to the Illinois Association of School Boards website.
The Edwardsville School Board spent less during the last seven years than Cahokia did in one, and Edwardsville will not attend any conferences this year. During the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Edwardsville Board spent $4,127. Parkway, one of the biggest and wealthiest districts in Missouri, spent $3,623 on board development. And Clayton, one of the richest and most successful districts in the midwest, spent just $894. In other words, Cahokia spent more tax money in Vegas than Edwardsville, Parkway and Clayton spent the entire year.
The trip to Vegas was only the beginning. Five months later, six Cahokia Board members spent several days in Chicago attending the Illinois School Board convention. That cost taxpayers $8,862.70. Two months after the state convention in Chicago, Cahokia Board member Linda Stults went to a conference in Phoenix at a cost of $2565.16. All seven Cahokia Board members went to Chicago in April 2010 for National School Boards Association convention for a cost of $14,310. In all, the Cahokia School Board spent $35,891 since June 2009 on long distance trips that were not required.
Our investigation found that when it comes to those kind of trips the Cahokia School Board appears to be in a class of its own. Here's a more detailed look at how some local school Boards spent money on professional development.
Edwardsville, Parkway and Clayton were only three of many districts that spent a small fraction of what Cahokia paid for Board training and travel. Ladue spent $3,086 in 2008-09 and $1,680 in 2009-10. Lindbergh Board members spent $5,904 for professional development in 2009-10. The professional development for Rockwood's Board cost taxpayers $7,742 last year. Rockwood's budget for this year is $2,942. The Fox district spent $6,016 on Board training and travel for 2009-10.
As I mentioned, Illinois school Board members aren't required to get training, but Missouri requires 16 hours of training within the first 12 months on a board, according to the Missouri School Boards' Association website. According to the MSBA website, "MSBA originated the Certified Board Member (CBM) program as a structured training program in 1989. The state of Missouri affirmed this need for leadership training by making board orientation mandatory as part of the Outstanding Schools Act in 1993. Since that time, nearly 6,000 Missouri board members have become certified through the CBM program, and newly elected and veteran board members participate in MSBA educational programs every year."
If you have any tips about the alleged misuse of taxpayer money in local school districts please send me an email at CCheatham@kmov.com.