Columbus school board approves trip to Miami conference, again

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The Columbus Board of Education voted — once again — Tuesday to spend more than $10,000 to send four members to a conference in Miami in September.

Though a majority of board members already had approved the Florida trip in June, the subject has since sparked controversy. Two board members had disputed a vote at a July 12 meeting where they discussed the trip.

Board member Eric Brown said a motion that he had proposed and that board member James Ragland had seconded that day canceled the Miami trip, while another conference trip, which the entire board attended last week, was approved. But board President Gary Baker, Columbus City Schools Treasurer Stan Bahorek and outside legal counsel whom Bahorek consulted disagreed.

Though Brown proposed a motion canceling the Miami trip, they said, he never formally amended the resolution, so it was voted on as written.

“We were not all on the same page about what we voted on,” Brown said. “Different members of this board intended different things.”

So to set the record straight, the group agreed to vote again.

Nothing changed.

Brown and Ragland both voted in favor of a new resolution that would prohibit board members from traveling for the rest of the calendar year, including the Miami trip. The board’s five other members voted against that motion, and thus permission to take the trip still stands.

The annual Council of Urban Boards of Education conference, hosted in Miami by the National School Boards Association from Sept. 26 to Sept. 28, will cost about $2,600 per attendee. Baker, board Vice President Michael Cole and board members W. Shawna Gibbs and Ramona Reyes will attend.

But even after the vote, the minutes-long July 12 meeting still dominated much of Tuesday night’s discussion, with Brown and Ragland later saying that amendments were needed for that meeting’s minutes.

Ultimately, the other board members, minus Gibbs, rejected Brown and Ragland’s motion. Gibbs abstained from the vote because she wasn’t at the July 12 meeting.

Brown, who chairs the board’s policy review committee, said its members are discussing a permanent policy regarding board member travel that will be presented at a meeting later this year.

For a district of its size, the amount that Columbus City Schools spends on professional development for board members doesn’t appear to be abnormal, according to a Dispatch analysis of budget records from school districts throughout Ohio.

Columbus, with about 50,000 students, is the state’s largest school district and spent about $123,000 on professional development over the past five years, including registration fees, travel, lodging and meal costs.

Akron, with 21,300 students, spent nearly $200,000 during that time. Toledo, with 23,000 students, spent nearly $107,000. Dayton, with 14,000 students, spent nearly $92,000; Cleveland, with 39,000 students, spent about $66,000; and Cincinnati, with 36,000 students, spent about $59,400.

Spending in central Ohio varied greatly from district to district, ranging from just a couple of hundred dollars at Canal Winchester, which has 3,700 students, to about $50,800 at Hilliard, which has 16,000 students, and nearly $59,000 at Upper Arlington, which has 6,000 students.

Just last week, all seven Columbus Board of Education members took a trip to Harvard University’s Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a three-day conference. The Accelerated Board Capacity Summer Institute was developed specifically for the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of 75 of the nation’s largest urban public schools, including Columbus.

That trip wasn’t disputed.

At past meetings, Brown has voiced concerns about paying for professional development for board members whose terms are due to expire. Baker and Gibbs will leave the board Dec. 31 and they are not seeking re-election in November.

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@AlissaWidman