Sending 88 Beaumont Independent School District employees to New Orleans for a meeting of the National Alliance of Black School Educators cost taxpayers more than $100,000, according to records obtained by The Examiner Newspaper.
But that does not include any sponsorships or fees paid by BISD that have not yet been released by the school district in response to a Texas Public Information Act request.
BISD Superintendent Carrol Thomas is the immediate past-president of NABSE. The organization is made-up of black educators from around the country and most of the attendees were minorities.
The keynote speaker on the opening day of the NABSE event being held at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center was Rainbow/PUSH Coalition leader Rev. Jessie Jackson.
When questioned about errors that were found in the documents by The Examiner Newspaper, BISD assistant spokesperson Craig Eichhorn said the records released were incomplete and contained a few mistakes so the district was reviewing them. He said the district would release updated copies of the information and any supporting documentation, such as receipts, reimbursement documents and travel expense forms after the Christmas break, which will be in January 2012.
According to records from NABSE, the conference was scheduled from November 16-20 and registration cost $500 for non-members. Lodging at the host hotel – Hilton New Orleans Riverside – was $199 a night plus tax. According to Hilton’s reservation services the taxes on each room pushed the final total to $227.87 per night. Parking cost $34 a day for self-parking or $40 a day for valet and Internet service listed at $12.95 a day. If all 88 BISD employees obtained separate rooms at the host hotel the total cost for the room charges would be $20,052.56 not including parking or Internet service.
An overflow conference hotel – Embassy Suites New Orleans-Convention Center – was listed at $179 a night plus tax. A hotel representative said the total cost for the room including taxes would come to $204.27 a night plus $33 a day for parking. Internet service was $12.95 a day. The total cost for all 88 BISD employees to each have their own rooms at the Embassy Suites would have been $17,975.76.
The Examiner has confirmed that although some employees shared rides, most travelled in separate vehicles and were reimbursed for mileage at a rate of 51-cents per mile – the posted government rate. At that rate the cost of reimbursement for mileage would be $269.28 per vehicle.
The list of employees showed varying amounts of money being advanced for the trip. For example, Sybil Comeaux, who is the head of personnel for BISD and the president of the local NABSE chapter, known as the Beaumont Area Association of Black School Educators, received an advance of $1,807.92 while Central High School’s principal, Patricia Lambert, was given a $2,434.16 advance. But it was Janie Jackson, who works at the Woodrow Wilson annex, that received the largest advance at $5,844.
<THE COMPLETE LIST PROVIDED BY BISD CAN BE DOWNLOADED ABOVE>
When pressed, Eichhorn said he was not sure about the numbers and had not reviewed the backup material because it was not yet available. He also said he did not know why the names of BISD trustees Mike Neil and Tom Neild were on the list as attending the conference. Both Neild and Neil said they told the district weeks in advance they weren’t attending the event.
“I don’t know why my name was put on that list,” Neild said. “I think it is something we need to look into and see if the names listed actually match those who went.”
Those thoughts were reiterated by board member Mike Neil, who said he also informed the district he would not being attending the NABSE convention.
Neil said he didn’t see the need to send so many people to a single event and he really didn’t see the need to deplete the staff development budget by more than $100,000 so BISD employees could party in New Orleans.
“Call it what you want but a party is a party,” Neil said. “I like parties but let’s call it what it is and not use staff development money that could help all teachers. I think the amount of money we spent was ridiculous. Spending that kind of money out of a development budget really cuts into how much development can now be provided to other teachers. How much more could we have done if we would have taken that $100,000 and spent it on bringing great speakers to Beaumont so that all of our teachers and administrators could benefit?
“This will hurt others who did not or could not attend a single event that was obviously geared toward a specific demographic. And that is another issue altogether.”
Neil’s comments were touched off by comments made by Thomas during Thursday night’s regular BISD board meeting, where he claimed BISD was the best district in the nation at educating black students.
“I am tired of everything being focused on segregated issues in this district,” Neil said. “I don’t care if it’s black, white, Hispanic; if this had been a LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) meeting or some other group I would still feel the same way. The administration needs to realize that we have children of all races in this district and they are all important and should receive an equal education.”
*Information about NABSE can be found at http://www.nabse.org