Over the past week or so, we've seen a couple of interesting uses of taxpayer's money by both our local and state education systems. So we decided to look into them and see if they were worth it.
First, local school board member Almond Turner traveled to Washington, D.C., for a three-day conference Feb. 5-7, costing the Newton County School System $1,915. Tuner spent the time in seminars with school board members from around the country and even hand-delivered a letter and information to the district's congressmen and both state senators on Capitol Hill.
Turner's trip sounds reasonable enough. Looking at the itinerary provided by the school system, it certainly doesn't appear like this was a sightseeing tour of D.C.'s vast array of historic and significant monuments. Turner was busy with education matters the entire time. Still, that won't matter to everyone, especially some teachers who learned last week the NCSS plans to furlough their pay up to six days next year.
The NCSS employs 2,434 people and is the county's largest employer, and each one of them will potentially lose six days of pay next year. Hopefully, that won't happen. Superintendent Gary Mathews was able to cut it to four this year, and we hope that happens again.
We don't think Turner's trip was a misappropriation of funds. The News even learned he paid for some of the expenses including meals, transportation and checking in his luggage so clearly he had all of this on his mind. Still, money is money, and whenever it's spent on something like a conference in a tight economy, it's bound to raise a few eyebrows.
Last week, the state's education system flew in the financial radar rather figuratively when state superintendant John Barge visited Heard-Mixon to recognize the school as a state School of Excellence. Barge flew in on a helicopter and, according to his representatives, was on a four-location stop Friday.
Much like with Turner's conference, the use of a helicopter drew the ire of the community and warranted an explanation. We learned the use of the helicopter costs the Georgia Department of Education $450 per flight hour (it doesn't cost them when the aircraft is parked).
One has to question the need to pay that sort of money for a helicopter when a car costs much less. When asked about its use, Barge's office said it wouldn't have contracted a helicopter if the superintendent was traveling just to Covington. Since he had four trips to make across the state, his office felt it prudent to fly.
We understand both our county and state's school system have budgets to meet, and each of these expenses came out of a predetermined part of those budgets. Fair enough. If either system comes in over budget at the end of the fiscal year, this would certainly be a much larger issue. Regardless, there's no escaping perception. And that's really what this boils down to.
Both the county and state are strapped for cash right now. Taking trips to Washington, D.C., and flying around in helicopters doesn't bode well in the eyes people who are asked to work for free. That's something we hope both education systems keep in mind.