The Jefferson Parish School Board voted this week to limit board members' travel spending to $3,000 each per year, a few weeks after it was reported that some members spent tens of thousands of dollars on travel over a three-year period.
Board member Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, who proposed the spending cap at Wednesday night's meeting, said she hoped it would limit board members to attending the Louisiana School Boards Association meeting and one other conference a year.
"We don't need to go all over the country," she said. "I don't think board members need to go on all this travel."
Last month, WWL-TV aired a story comparing the travel costs of all nine board members from 2015 to 2017. Two members, Cedric Floyd and Ricky Johnson, charged taxpayers more than $35,000 for travel during those years.
A third member, Marion "Coach" Bonura, charged more than $22,000, and a fourth, Melinda Doucet, spent more than $16,000 during that period.
Denapolis-Bosarge said it was wrong for a system that is discussing asking voters for a new millage to spend extravagantly on travel.
"How can we afford to ask the public for increased consideration in a new property tax if we can't show restraint?" she asked. "Until we get our financial house in order, I don't think we need to be traveling all over the country."
The proposal drew a sharp response from Bonura, Floyd and Johnson.
Bonura said he had often brought ideas he garnered at conventions back to the board.
"You will find a lot of readings that I make about academics when I come back from those places," he said, referencing STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, education as an example. "I think $3,000 is too low."
Bonura said the proposal was a political move against him. "I feel like I am being attacked," he said.
Floyd also defended his attendance at conferences, noting that school board members from St. Charles and St. Tammany parishes, both of which have highly rated school systems, attend some of the same conferences he has attended.
What's more, he said, the extra education he gets at the conferences allows him to obtain a "certified" rating from the School Boards Association, which is a voluntary program.
He also noted that some Jefferson board members have not obtained the number of hours of board member education required by the state in some years.
Floyd also decried what he called a lack of collegiality on the board, saying its fractured nature "dragged the system down."
Johnson said that traveling to such conferences involved sacrifice on his part, including time away from his family and the church he pastors.
"I just don't go for my family, but for all the kids of Jefferson Parish," he said.
"If we stay in Jefferson Parish, we can only learn what Jefferson Parish gives us," he said. "We are not the best."
Despite their protestations, Floyd and Johnson ended up voting for the measure, though Floyd noted that by doing so, he will be able to seek reconsideration of the rule at some future date.
The measure passed 8-1, with Bonura as the lone nay vote.