Savannah Reams: Greene Publishing, Inc.
In July of 2018, Greene Publishing, Inc. filed public records requests with the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) and the Madison County School District inquiring into the taxpayer funds being used to support Madison County's elected board members, other key staff and what those expenditures bring back to the county. The results of those requests brought about an alarming discovery.
In an effort to ensure school board Members stay informed about vital issues facing our public schools, they are sent to conferences each year that provide them with important training necessary to make informed decisions as an elected official. The Madison County School District finances these trips by paying for conference fees and later reimbursing school board members for their hotel stay and travel expenses. However, according to attendance and registration records compiled by the FSBA, the organization which provides the necessary training and conferences to our local board members, integrity has become an issue with District 3 Board Member, VeEtta Hagan.
Records indicate that at the FSBA Annual Summer Conference in Tampa, attended by our Madison County School Board members on June 13-15, Board Member Hagan did not participate in any sessions. According to the FSBA conference registration rates sheet, the Madison County School District paid FSBA $250 per board member to attend the conference. However, each board member was reimbursed for their travel expenses as well.
The data above indicates how many sessions each board member attended and, subsequently, how much they were reimbursed for their travel and hotel stay at the conference location at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, a 4.5-star luxury hotel, or the 4.5-star overflow hotel, Hyatt Place Tampa Airport/Westshore. Board members also have the option to stay elsewhere and commute back and forth to the conference if they so wish. Reimbursements to individual board members vary due to which hotel they stay at, how many nights, and if they drive. For instance, a board member's expenses and/or reimbursement may be higher if they volunteered to drive to the conference, subsequently paying out-of-pocket for gas expenditures.
The records compiled by the FSBA indicate a major misuse of tax payer dollars by Hagan, who had fees and/or reimbursements of $735.00 paid on her behalf without having attended any sessions at the FSBA Annual Summer Conference in Tampa. Hagan has served as a board member for approximately 14 years. In the 14 years, she has served, it is not known exactly how many conferences she has attended, however it has been more than enough for her to become a certified board member by the FSBA. After all this time, Hagan has yet to fulfill the requisite requirements of the FSBA. Every other Madison County School Board member has become certified or, at a minimum, fulfilled FSBA requirements to become certified and only need to file for their certification.
Records obtained from the Madison County School District show that thousands of dollars have been spent on training and conferences over the years; a clear indication School Board members and other key personnel have received ample opportunities from the District to fulfill certification requirements and become knowledgeable in all areas.
According to public records provided by the Madison County School District, in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, $8,400.88 went to school board travel expenses. This figure does not include conference registration fees per member for each conference attended.
In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the district spent $18,770 for conference fees and travel reimbursements for board members, the superintendent and other key personnel. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the district paid $20,100.44 in conference fees and travel reimbursements for board members, the superintendent and other key personnel.
As the June 2018 attendance records indicate, Hagan has not been held accountable for how her time is spent on district-funded trips. How many tax payer dollars have funded vacations instead of work conferences throughout the years? Will money continue to be wasted until a solid accountability system is in place? Stay tuned.