If you want to connect with the Jefferson Parish School Board, it might be best to visit the airport.
There’s a good chance of catching at least some of the members there, jetting out of state on the taxpayers’ dime.
Since a new slate of teacher union-backed members took office last year, spending on board-related travel has shot up by almost 3,000 percent over what was spent on trips in 2014. Board members who belong to the union-backed bloc on the public body have been among the top fliers, and they’re not about to park their suitcases — at least not without a fight.
From 2010 to 2014, the school board spent $82,453 on travel-related expenses. But last year, the board spent more than $66,000 on travel — more than triple the annual average in the previous four years. The board’s newfound wanderlust stems from early last year, when the incoming, union-backed slate of board members voted to rescind the board’s earlier restrictions on travel.
Melinda Bourgeois, a first-time board member whose candidacy was backed by the business community, proposed requiring members to get board approval for trips to out-of-town gatherings not held by state or national association of school boards. Fellow members Larry Dale, Sandy Denapolis-Borsarge and Mark Morgan agreed.
But the board’s unionist faction — Cedric Floyd, Ricky Johnson, Marion “Coach” Bonura, Ray St. Pierre and Melinda Doucet — balked at the travel policy that Bourgeois suggested. Not surprisingly, the five members who voted against the Bourgeois proposal also happen to be the biggest spenders on taxpayer-funded travel. Last year, Floyd alone spent nearly $20,000 on out-of-town meetings.
Public officials can sometimes benefit from traveling to conferences for professional development, but Bourgeois is right to stress that when taxpayer money is involved, board members need to be choosy about where they go.
And if these trips are defensible, as those who voted against the Bourgeois proposal argued, then what’s the harm in getting board approval for the bigger trips in an open meeting, where members of the public can see how board members plan to spend tax dollars?
As they pursue future opportunities for professional development, maybe the union cronies on the Jefferson Parish School Board should attend a seminar on public accountability. We hope they can find one close to home.