Analysis: Many of Morgan's expenses for meetings she was expected to attend

February 19, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

A summer 2009 trip to Russia at the request of the Maryland Secretary of State was among Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan's expenses in the last fiscal year, according to Morgan and an expense report analysis provided by Washington County Public Schools.

Morgan's travels during the past few years included a February 2010 trip to Phoenix, where she was named 2010 National Superintendent of the Year, and a July 2010 trip to Cuba as a member of an official U.S. education delegation, Morgan said.

Morgan's current contract includes an annual base salary of $182,905 this fiscal year and allows for up to $6,000 a year for expenses related to attending professional growth activities, meetings, and professional and community activities to enhance the school system's relationship with the community.

Her expenses for the previous fiscal year, 2009-10, amounted to $3,708, well below the $10,000 her 2006-10 contract permitted, according to the expense report prepared by school system Chief Financial Officer Chris South.

Local superintendents are required to attend meetings of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland and the State Superintendent of Schools, according to the expense report.

Many of Morgan's expenses were tied to meetings her 2009-10 contract states she was expected to attend "as part of her professional growth and duties." Those include national conventions, meetings, seminars, institutes and other professional activities. Such expenses were to be approved by the board president or designee up to $10,000 a year, the contract states.

Under the contract, Morgan "is expected to represent the school system at a wide variety of professional and community activities to enhance school system/community relationships."

Morgan said she interpreted the 2006-10 contract to mean all of these expenses could total $10,000 and not just the ones she was expected to attend as part of her professional growth and duties.

Among the local events the school system paid for Morgan to attend were Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce events, Maryland Symphony Orchestra board of directors' dinner meetings and Maryland Municipal League meetings.

"I believe in order to do the job well as superintendent, it's important to attend a number of events. It's not only a show of support for community activities, but gives the school system a place at the table, which I think is extremely important," Morgan said.

The school system is a large entity that depends on a lot of partners, Morgan said.

"We need to do our work with and through a lot of people," said Morgan, who is retiring from the school system Feb. 28.

Morgan said she's never come close to spending the annual $10,000 expense limit stipulated until the current fiscal year in her contract. That limit was reduced to $6,000 for the current fiscal year because of difficult financial times.

Expenses for the second half of fiscal year 2008-09 totaled $1,514, according to the expense report.

From July 1 to early October 2010 her expenses were $3,554. That included $1,400 for the Cuba trip and a $1,507 reimbursement that covered hotel costs for both an American Association of School Administrators Summer Leadership Conference and the Maryland Association of Counties Conference in Ocean City, Md., as well as registration for a national board meeting of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS).

Morgan said she never traveled as much as she had this past year, due in large part to being named 2010 National Superintendent of the Year.

International trips

Morgan was reimbursed for some trip expenses for both international trips.

She was invited on the trip to Cuba in part because she was 2010 National Superintendent of the Year, but also because she's a member of the ALAS, according to the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA).

"At this stage in my career, opportunities accrue to me, because of that national superintendent honor, that I would have been foolish to not take advantage of because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Morgan said.

Since being named for the honor, Morgan said she's received almost one invitation a day, so she didn't take advantage of many of them.

Some of the events she went to don't show up on her expense report because the organizations that issued the invitations covered her costs, she said. That included a trip last October to Oklahoma, where each year's national superintendent is invited to be a judge for the Brock International Prize in Education, according to Morgan and Trent Gabert, administrator for the prize.

Morgan said she found the Cuba trip fascinating.

Cuba went from having one of the worst literacy rates to one of the best by training its army to teach people to read, she said.

According to the expense report, the school system reimbursed Morgan $1,400 for the housing and meals package for the Cuba trip that was part of the CALSA Summit. Other expenses for which she did not seek reimbursement included airfare, Morgan said.

Morgan said she was allowed to invite up to three people to accompany her on the Cuba trip, none of whom's expenses were covered by the school system. She and her husband, Douglas, paid for his expenses and those of their daughter Raquel, Morgan said.

Martha Godlove-Ridenour, who teaches Latin and Greek at Smithsburg High School and is married to school board President Wayne Ridenour, also went on the trip to Cuba.

Wayne Ridenour said he paid for his wife's expenses on the Cuban trip and showed The Herald-Mail notations in his check register for checks related to the trip. They included two checks reimbursing Morgan for airfare, lodging, meals and the conference registration.

Morgan said she also paid for her husband's and many of her own expenses on a summer 2009 trip to St. Petersburg in Russia, including their airfare and meals.

St. Petersburg is in the Leningrad region, which is one of Maryland's sister states, according to the Maryland Office of the Secretary of State.

During that trip, Morgan said, she attended an international conference on youth.

Many of the participating countries at the conference start teaching English to children when they are in preschool, she said.

"(We've) really got to beef up our languages. They're so way ahead of us," Morgan said.

National honor

Morgan's costs for the Phoenix trip were covered by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland because she was being honored, she said.

She would have attended the Phoenix meeting of AASA anyway, so there was money budgeted for her to make the trip, Morgan said. When she discovered her expenses would be covered, Morgan said she offered to use her budget for the trip to allow some senior staff to go and two members took her up on the offer.

Shula Finkelstein, executive assistant for strategic planning, board and community relations, and Dale Bannon, director of system development, both took her up on the offer so some of the trip expenses were covered by Morgan's expense budget, Morgan said.

Morgan said she did not know exactly how much of their trip expenses were paid by the school system.

The Herald-Mail made an informal request for the amounts Feb. 7, asking for the information by Feb. 15, but school system spokesman Richard Wright said that wasn't enough time to get the information for inclusion in this story.

Bannon said Monday he did not know how much the school system paid for the prepaid package that included the registration, airfare and hotel. He said he was reimbursed for official expenses such as meals and transportation while at the conference.

Finkelstein said the trip was so long ago she couldn't remember how much she was reimbursed for meals.

The school system's chief legal counsel, Anthony Trotta, said he went to Phoenix and paid his own way.

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