Sparks fly over school travel issue

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Some officials with the Natchez-Adams School District say they see controversy over its travel policy as a means of micromanaging the district.

&uot;A board member’s role is to formulate policy and to make sure that the district is following that policy,&uot; said school board president Kenneth Taylor, who thinks any effort otherwise is outside the bounds of a school board member. &uot;A board member’s role is not to micromanage.&uot;

Board member Camille Jackson raised the issue of &uot;wasteful travel&uot; during Thursday’s board meeting after seeing a list of trips administrators and staff took last year. She said that the school board was not aware of the trips and that the items had not been brought before it for approval.

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But Taylor does not think it is accurate to say district employees are taking trips unapproved by the board.

&uot;The travel budget is approved,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;It’s part of the budget. It’s been approved.&uot;

Taylor said he was not aware of any abuse of the travel budget

The Natchez-Adams School District was under budget on its travel expenses last year, and had budgeted close to $90,000 in an administrative travel fund, plus $15,398 in a school travel fund, which was broken down among the schools, according to information released by the school district.

But information breaking down the travel by individual names can be misleading, Davis said.

For example, elementary supervisor Joyce Johnson, was slated with making trips to Phoenix and Denver costing $486.75 and $1,220 respectively.

But those expenses came out of Johnson’s budget but paid to send teachers to training at those locations and does not necessarily mean that Johnson took those trips, Davis said.

A break down of trips by individual also does not clearly indicate when travel was not funded by local dollars, Davis said.

Salaries fall into the same category, Taylor said, as travel. Even though Jackson asked last week if some salaries had been illegally awarded without the board’s consent, Taylor said they were also approved in the budget.

He looks at the issue as being in part an effort by Jackson and board member Don Marion to run the district. In recent months, the board has split 3 to 2 on many votes with Jackson and Marion voting in the minority.

&uot;If you’ve noticed those two board members have a problem accepting the will of the majority,&uot; Taylor said.

Davis agreed with Taylor’s comments. &uot;This is just an attempt at micromanaging the district, and it needs to stop. It really needs to stop,&uot; Davis said.

At each board meeting, either Jackson and Marion bring up a different issue, Davis said. He wishes they would call his office ahead of time, like other board members, with questions instead of dumping them on the staff at the board meeting. &uot;I think we’ve gotten confused as to what’s my day-to-day operational duties and what’s the board’s position,&uot; Davis said.

&uot;It’s not fair when allegations are made like this and there’s no substance and (Jackson) has not facts,&uot; Davis said. &uot;It’s tearing down everything that we’ve worked to build or try to straighten up.&uot;

Jackson could not be reached for comment Monday but the board agreed last week to have her draft a travel policy to be discussed at the September board meeting.

Marion did not wish to comment on Monday.

This is the second time a member of the school board has suggested such a policy in the past year with Marion bringing it up last time.

But Taylor said the board members need time to study any policy before voting on it.

He cannot say whether the action would be right or wrong at this time but &uot;I will not support any policy that is an attempt to micromanage any aspect of the district.&uot;

And Davis said he does not appreciate insinuations that he has done something illegal. He thinks the district needs a school board and staff that work together as a unit. &uot;I would love to have five members working together as a board. Right now we have three working together for the betterment of the school district,&uot; Davis said.

And in the end it’s the students who suffer, he said. &uot;I want to apologize to the community for all of this because it’s not in the best interest of the school district,&uot; Davis said. &uot;I think we’ve forgotten about the kids, and they’re the most important people in the district.&uot;