Commissioner raises concern about School travel

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By Jennifer Caldwell

When members of the commission’s education committee met last week the sole agenda item was discussion of the Jellico Elementary School lighting project.  But conversation quickly turned concern about the travel habits of school system personnel.

The Board of Education had previously voted to upgrade Jellico Elementary’s lighting using capital outlay dollars.  The initial cost of the project was approximately $65,000. However, the number of fixtures needing replacement was miscalculated.  

When the project was rebid the new price was $106,696.

As a result of the increased cost Jeff Marlow, finance director, told committee members they would need to authorize $55,000 of commission funds set aside for education capital outlay projects.

The group voted in favor of allowing the transfer of funds.

Just as the meeting seemed to be drawing to a close Commissioner David Goins took the opportunity to introduce the subject of travel.

“I’ve never been good at keeping my mouth shut,” Goins said as he voiced his concern.  “I’ve been hammered for the past two days by people who want to know how our school system employees, mainly supervisors, are able to travel around to all these places during such hard economic times,” Goins continued referring to the trips as “vacations.”

In an effort to shed some light on the situation, Marlow told the group the money being used by Dr. Michael Martin, director of schools, and other school system personnel to travel to places such as Seattle and Arizona was funded by a grant that could only be used for travel.  

Marlow went on to say the trips were done as part of the research necessary for the development of a school improvement grant the county is competing for.

“This travel has not cost the county a dime,” Marlow explained of the grant funding.

Not satisfied with the response Goins tried a different approach.

“What if their spouses are going on these trips,” Goins inquired.

“Yeah, I’d like to know how these people are going on all these safaris,” Commissioner Scott Kitts chimed in.

Marlow told the group as long as spouses of school employees were paying for their own travel and other expenses there is not a problem with it.

In an explanation that  Marlow has repeatedly used, he once again reiterated to the commissioners that their job is to fund the school system’s budget but the commission retains little to no control over how the money is spent.

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