Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Travel for APS Leaders: 143 Days
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
The Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent and leadership team spent a total of about 143 workdays outside New Mexico last year, mainly at conferences in destinations that included New York City, Chicago, Toronto and Cape Cod, Mass.
More than a dozen of the trips taken by district leaders were to attend events of the Council of Great City Schools.
The Journal reported previously that Superintendent Winston Brooks took 11 trips in 2010, spending about 31 workdays out of state and costing the district about $6,000 in travel expenses.
Eleven other top APS administrators spent a total of 112 workdays on out-of-state travel. As with Brooks, many of the expenses for travel were paid by organizations outside APS.
Travel documents show the cost to the district for travel by other members of the leadership team was about $23,000. The exact amount is difficult to ascertain from records because some expense were paid upfront and then reimbursed.
The APS leadership team consists of 15 people, including Brooks, his associate superintendents, executive directors and school police chief.
Most travel was for meetings with groups such as the Council of Great City Schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the College Board.
Brooks has said that kind of travel benefits the district because it puts APS "on the map," and makes the district a contender for grants and pilot programs.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta, who did not leave New Mexico on business in 2010, said travel also allows the district to compare ideas.
"We are able to bring back ideas from other large, urban school districts and compare," Armenta said. "Because most of the issues we face at the district level are not unique; problems in public education are fairly universal."
She pointed to more tangible benefits as well. The 2013 Council of Great City Schools annual conference will be in Albuquerque, which Armenta said will bring an influx in hotel income and taxes.
The district paid $38,795 in membership dues this year to be part of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization that brings together large, urban school districts and advocates for them at the national level.
The council and APS officials say the district gets good value for its dues.
School Board President Paula Maes said she believes the travel provides important benefits.
"APS is one of the largest school districts in the country, and we have never been really involved on a national level with educational issues. We get hit with all those issues, but we've never been at the table on a national level," Maes said. "That's one of the really positive things Winston brought to us."
Board member Martin Esquivel, chairman of the board's finance committee, said he believes the travel is beneficial, but also said it should be under scrutiny in the current budget climate.
"In this day and age, we have to cut back on everything, and travel is something we potentially have to cut back on," Esquivel said. "It might be more symbolic than anything else, but I think it's something we have to assess."
Last year's travel included:
• Seven trips for chief academic officer Linda Sink, which took her away for 16 workdays. Nearly all her travel expenses were covered by outside organizations. Records show Sink's only trip that cost the district substantial money was a trip to Austin in February 2010 to attend the College Board's Southwest Regional Forum. That trip cost the district about $1,200.
• Seven trips for Tom Ryan, the district's top technology officer, who was outside New Mexico for 23 workdays. Ryan's destinations included Denver, Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. Several of Ryan's trips were paid with district funds, including about $1,780 for a conference put on by Blackboard, an education technology company, in Orlando in July.
• Six trips for Eddie Soto, associate superintendent for secondary schools, which took him out of state for 16 workdays. Three of the trips were to Palo Alto, Calif., to work with a Stanford University-based program on Leadership, Equity and Accountability in Districts and Schools. Nearly all the expenses for those trips were paid by a Small Learning Communities grant.
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, said in an interview Friday that districts get far more money in rewards than they pay in dues. He said in addition to the intangible benefits of networking and sharing information, the organization has helped APS by:
• Arranging for APS to participate in a city-level version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which would otherwise cost about $750,000.
• Providing the district with comparative information about broadband Internet service, which led APS to renegotiate its Internet service for a savings of about $100,000.