The Right View: In Trustees We Trust?

The Right View: MISD – In The Trustees We Trust?

Fun Times on the Taxpayer’s Dime

With the school district and residents of McKinney facing with tight finances and tough choices, how do the overseers of the MISD budget respond?

How does “We’re going on a vacation!” sound to you hardworking taxpayers?

Early in July, the McKinney ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved the proposed 2010-2011 district budget of $183.8 million. In announcing the 2010 budget, it was noted that “McKinney ISD and districts across Texas are facing numerous financial challenges due to the economic climate and stagnant target revenue from the State.

Cody Cunningham, McKinney ISD Assistant to the Superintendent for Communications cautioned that “However, we must continue our efforts to operate more efficiently and recognize that there is still work to be done. Our primary goal throughout this process has been to make cuts where possible, but avoid those which would negatively impact the academic environment and learning.

Many board members proclaim their qualifications in dealing finances.  Curtis Rippee and Dick Stevens tout their experience as financial planners.  Current Board President Lynn Sperry and former president Wade Johnson both note their experience in dealing with budget issues and newly elected member, Kathi Livezey called finances a top issue facing the district.

In this case, let us hope that their words mean more than their actions, because so far, a few of their actions have shown a clear lack of concern for the MISD budget.

In a recent column, Bill Baumbach criticized a trip by several state and local officials to China as a waste during trying financial times.  Baumbach even noted MISD resorting to cutting into its reserves as a reason to cut all wasteful spending by our elected officials. This article prompted my curiosity regarding travel expenses of the McKinney Board of Trustees and on June 10, a FOIA request to MISD. Another blog will describe my adventures with obtaining information from MISD.

July 29, I received a stack of 1,100 pages of disorganized receipts, advances, convention information, reports, boarding passes, etc.  This set the entire staff of The Right View into motion and the following is our analysis.

In 2009, the McKinney Board of Trustees traveled to seven different conventions spending over $27,000.  Most members including Maria McKinzie, Judy Poe, Lynn Sperry, and Lewis Isaacks  attended two conventions,  the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Annual Convention held in April at the Omni Hotel in San Diego, California and the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) Convention held in October in Houston, Texas.   Mark Rude missed the TASA-TASB, due to illness and Wade Johnson attended both and the Texas Caucus of Black School Board Members (TCBSM) Summit and Golf Tournament in Houston in March.

2009 Expenses

 Dick Stevens

$5,399.55

Judy Poe

$3,075.22

Lewis Isaacks

$4,417.61

Lynn Sperry

$4,207.77

Maria McKinzie

$3,667.48

Mark Rude

$632.73

Wade Johnson

$6,105.04

$27,505.40

2010 Expenses*

Lewis Isaacks

$1,301.80

Kathi Livezey

$771.66

Maria McKinzie

$4,139.43

Judy Poe

$1,825.00

Curtis Rippee

$1,604.00

Mark Rude

$1,332.30

Lynn Sperry

$3,947.90

Dick Stevens

$4,193.18

Wade Johnson

$6,473.52

$25,588.79

* Note that the 2010 expenses do not include registration or hotel fees for the TASB SLI. That information was not included in the materials supplied by MISD. Those expenses will easily exceed $2,000.

 In 2010, MISD board members are on pace to double 2009 travel expenses.

Yep, in the first six months of 2010, they are very close to exceeding 2009 costs.

All board members, with the exception of Mark Rude, traveled to the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter to attend the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI), billed as the flagship training conference for the Texas Association of School Boards. This was the only conference for newly elected board members Curtis Rippee and Kathi Livezey.

Veteran board member Maria McKinzie also attended the April meeting of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Convention at the lovely W Hotel in Chicago, along with the SLI session.

In addition to those conventions, Board President Lynn Sperry and Dick Stevens flew to the TASB leadership convention held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

In addition to all of those conventions, Wade Johnson also jetted to Houston in March for the Texas Caucus for Black School Board Members (TCBSBM) Education Summit and Golf Tournament.

Members may apply for an advance for rental cars, mileage (to DFW, if flying), miscellaneous, and per diem for breakfast ($10), lunch ($15) and dinner ($20). The Right View staff found only one instance where a member returned the meal per diem when a meal was purchased by a vendor, MISD or included with the convention fees. Mark Rude did not receive advances or submit for a per diem.

There is no doubt that attendance at some of these conventions is warranted and meaningful, but what kind of message does this send to the taxpayers?  Especially when fees for checking golf clubs is included in the expenses.

How about carpooling to Houston, Austin or San Antonio, instead of flying and paying for rental cars and expensive hotel parking fees?  Or better yet, take advantage of the online training that is available as a cheaper alternative for meeting continuing educations requirements via TASB.

Email Curtis at Rathpack@gmail.com

Update August 2, 2010

In the spirit of “watching all dogs”, The Right View has obtained the travel expenses for Mayor Loughmiller to travel to China for the “Salute to Texas Week” June 13-19, at the Shanghai World Expo 2010, part of the TexasOne economic development program.

The mayor’s hotel and airfare was paid by the TexasOne and MEDC, which uses a “half-cent sales tax to fund the economic growth of McKinney“, which was the purpose of his trip to China.

The City of McKinney paid a grand total of zero dollars for his travel, meals, hotel and other expenses. The mayor returned all of the $600 advance provided by the city for meals and incidentals.  The other expenses were covered by his personal funds. He traveled in economy class with no family members.

I stand behind my original support for the mayor and the council in working to attract new businesses to McKinney to reduce the tax burden on the homeowners.

Now, if we could just convince them to reconsider the decision to tear down the courthouse….

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