BOE members shouldered more expenses as economy worsened

February 19, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
By Chad Trovinger, Graphic Artist

Washington County Board of Education members' travel-related expenses decreased from $5,687 in fiscal 2008-09 to $816 in the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to a report prepared by the school system's chief financial officer for The Herald-Mail.

The expenses do not include the costs of business cards or of board meals during meeting days, Board President Wayne Ridenour said. Often the board holds closed sessions before or after their public business meetings, resulting in long meeting days, so the school system has a budget to provide meals for board members.

Board member Donna Brightman and former board member Ruth Anne Callaham, who is now a Washington County Commissioner, spent the most in fiscal year 2008-09.

Callaham's $2,040 in expenses that year included $2,000 toward tuition for the Leadership Maryland program.

Callaham said she thought it was fair to have the school system pay for a portion of the $6,000 tuition because the program provided her "an expanded view of the state and what's happening in education around the state in various settings."

Callaham said the rest of her tuition was covered by a $1,000 scholarship, herself and Food Resources, the nonprofit food bank for which she is executive director. Callaham said she also paid for gas, hotel and meal costs related to the leadership program.

Brightman's $1,750 in expenses during fiscal 2008-09 included $1,233 related to Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) Conference events. Those included $773 for registration and hotel costs for the annual conference and $450 for registration in a leadership program.

Brightman said she learned about public policy, board practices, and legislation during the leadership program.

Brightman said she was the school board's legislative liaison to MABE for three years until last September when board member W. Edward Forrest took over that role.

That resulted in several trips to Annapolis for meetings, for which she claimed $496 in mileage during fiscal 2008-09.

Brightman said she reduced her reimbursement requests around the end of 2008 and early in 2009, paying more expenses herself.

She didn't seek any reimbursement for mileage during fiscal 2009-10 or for a hotel stay when she attended the fall 2009 MABE conference, but did get reimbursed $463 in MABE conference registration fees.

"As the economy became such an obvious issue, I thought it was a very small gesture on my part to pick up everything I could," Brightman said. She said she paid for all her expenses at the fall 2010 MABE conference.

The expense analysis also notes several reimbursements Brightman made to the school system, including $108 for her husband's expenses at a 2008 MABE conference and $88 for a guest's expenses at a 2009 MABE conference. Brightman said she always reimbursed the school system for her husband's share of trip costs and reimbursed the school system for some of her own expenses in 2009, including $139 for a hotel stay at a summer MABE leadership conference.

All of former board member William Staley's $725 in expenses during fiscal 2008-09 and $520 during fiscal 2009-10 were for registration and hotel costs for MABE conferences, according to the expense report.

Staley said he did not seek reimbursement for mileage and meal costs for those trips.

Staley said the conferences gave him the opportunity to compare what the Washington County Public Schools system was doing with other school systems.

Some board members attended MABE conferences, but didn't claim expenses.

Board President Wayne Ridenour said he was a presenter at the 2009 and 2010 MABE conferences, and that he drove to Ocean City and back in a day, he said.

"I pay my freight," Ridenour said.

Ridenour said he has no problem with people being reimbursed because board members invest a lot of time and effort, and have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses.

He noted that board members aren't paid a lot.

Board members were paid $5,500 and the board president was paid $5,600, during the fiscal year that started July 1, 2009, and ended June 30, 2010, according to an e-mail from school system spokesman Richard Wright. The annual salary for board members elected last fall is now $6,100, Wright said.

Ridenour and board members Forrest, Justin Hartings and Paul Bailey had no travel expenses listed during fiscal 2009-10.

Ridenour and Forrest, who rejoined the board in December 2008, also had no expenses listed for fiscal 2008-09.

Forrest said his philosophy regarding expenses has changed because of the economy. During his previous tenure on the board, he said, he submitted reimbursement requests for various expenses.

Forrest said he hasn't attended a MABE conference since rejoining the board.

"I do go to meetings in Annapolis fairly regularly," said Forrest said, who said he doesn't submit mileage costs for reimbursement.

Bailey's $55 in expenses during fiscal 2008-09 were for two Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce events, including the Teacher of the Year dinner.

"When things started tightening up, I started tightening up," Bailey said. He said he was unable to attend the 2009 MABE conference and didn't go to the 2010 gathering.

Bailey said he paid to attend the State of the City and State of the County addresses last year as well as the recent State of the County address.

Hartings' $135 in expenses during fiscal 2008-09 were for a hotel stay for a MABE orientation for new board members.

Hartings said the only MABE conference he attended was last September and he's gone to several meetings in Annapolis, but he paid his own way for those trips.

"When I go to these events, I pay for it out of my own pocket. I feel like that's not a barrier for me being able to do it," said Hartings, who owns a biotechnology company. Hartings said he travels a lot for his business and often uses his frequent flier or hotel rewards points to cover the costs of school board-related expenses.

"If I can do this myself, I'd rather leave the money in the school system. So if it can be used by others to go to professional development type events, I'd rather do that," Hartings said.

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