Traveling to conferences and workshops have always been a practice of the Erie School Board. Board members and administrators say there's plenty to learn at those kind of events.
"There's a certain amount of professional development gained from these conferences," says Superintendent Jay Badams. "Another thing is a matter of networking, what's happening in other places. Districts around the country are wrestling with some of the same problems our Board of Directors wrestles with."
It was just last spring that the Erie School District wrestled with a $26 million budget deficit. Board members raised taxes and cut over 200 teaching positions. Still, two lame duck board members, Gary Horton and Jeanine McCreary, plan to attend a conference in New Orleans at a total cost of $4400.
The conference begins November 15. The board members' terms expire on December 7.
"Directors are elected for a term. They are still in office. And so it would take come sort of a policy that would specifically address when it would be appropriate for them to go on conferences or not," says Badams.
Board Member Bob Casillo attempted to amend the travel policy during budget talks. His motion was tabled. But he believes the New Orleans controversy is a good reason to raise the issue again.
"Perhaps something should be included to the extent that if a person is a lame duck, or preferring not to run for re-election, that there really shouldn't be board travel within the last quarter of that election cycle," he said.
Badams says the district has contracted the Pennsylvania School Board Association to review all of the board policies. He believes travel will be one of the policies that will be revised.
Meanwhile, Horton and McCreary are defending the trip. Horton says, in his job as Director of the Urban Erie Development Corporation, he can use the information he gets at the conference to continue to help the school district.
McCreary says she serves on a couple committees at the conference. She believes it would not be right to not fulfill her obligations to those committees.