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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Editorials

School Board member Susan Valdes’ travel on taxpayers’ dime is excessive

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Susan Valdes makes no apologies for her frequent travels to conferences near and far. Since 2010, the Hillsborough County School Board member has spent about $37,000 in taxpayers’ money on travel, far more than any of her fellow board members.

Valdes says the conferences keep her up to speed on education policy and trends, making her a more effective board member.

We don’t disagree that conferences can be beneficial, but her travel is excessive. Her fellow board members should institute a review process that might discourage frequent fliers such as Valdes from taking so many trips.

As the Tribune’s Erin Kourkounis reported, Valdes took 15 out-of-county trips in the 2012-13 school year alone. Her trip to Boston to attend a conference by the Council of Urban Boards of Education and National School Boards Association cost more than $3,000. She also attended state and national school board associations events, and conferences hosted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. And the list goes on.

She says her attendance is sometimes necessary because she serves in leadership roles for various groups. For instance, she is regional director for the National School Boards Association’s National Hispanic Caucus, is chairwoman of the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, and chairwoman of the Florida School Boards Association’s multicultural and diversity committee.

That seems like a lot to bite off for any one board member.

And we suspect her elevation to those leadership roles might have something to do with her reliable attendance at their conferences. All things considered, she could better serve the taxpayers and the district by limiting her leadership roles to one group a year, and scaling back the trips to a couple a year.

Board member Stacy White has spent less than $1,000 on travel since joining the board in 2010. He makes the valid point that technology can limit the need to travel. “We live in an age where you can keep yourself up to date by viewing webinars and taking part in conference calls,” White said.

School district administrators can’t tell elected board members when to travel or how much they can spend. But there was a committee of selected board members in place not long ago that reviewed travel requests with an eye toward protecting tax dollars. Board member Doretha Edgecomb thinks it might be a good idea to bring the committee back. We agree.

Of all the board members, Valdes should be the one most sensitive to questions about travel. She was criticized for spending $50,000 on travel during her first four-year term on the board. She promised at the time to do better. This barely rates as better.

She should remember who pays the bills before signing up for the next conference. If she can’t, maybe her fellow board members could remind her.

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