Members surpass budgets for trips

Richmond County school board members continue to travel even as student field trips and board employee travel are reduced.

Four board members have already exceeded their annual travel budgets, according to finance records obtained by The Augusta Chronicle .

Board members Marion Barnes, Eloise Curtis, Jack Padgett and Barbara Pulliam have gone over budget. The budget set aside $2,200 for each board member to travel out of town during the year. That figure was reduced to $1,980 in October when the school board approved 10 percent cuts to most of its budgets.

"As legislative liaison, of course, I spent a lot of time in Atlanta working with the state Legislature," said Mr. Padgett, who has spent $2,724.08, the most of any board member. "I just figured with so much going on in Atlanta, it was important for them to get our side."

For instance, he went to Atlanta for a news conference called by state Rep. Ben Harbin to push for restoring cuts to education funding, Mr. Padgett said. Some of those trips to Atlanta he didn't request reimbursement for.

Mrs. Pulliam said she was unaware she went over budget, but said she also pays out of her own pocket for travel expenses.

"If I go to a school every day, I don't get a dime," she said, adding that she isn't reimbursed for in-town travel. "I feel like I'm giving them more than they're giving me. I always call it a gift because I care about the children of Richmond County."

Most of her travel costs came from training sessions, including conferences for the Georgia School Boards Association and National School Boards Association, which was held this year in Orlando, Fla.

"I thought I was doing what it took to be the best board member I could be, the most effective board member I could be," Mrs. Pulliam said. "Don't get mad at me because the cost of gas is so high. Get mad at George Bush."

State law requires new board members to receive 12 training hours in a year and veteran board members to receive six hours of training.

"We're over because we go to conferences, and some don't go to them," Mrs. Curtis said. "We're supposed to attend those. If I'm over budget, it's because I'm doing what I'm supposed to."

Mr. Barnes did not return a phone message seeking comment Monday.

Finance Committee Chairman Frank Dolan, who has only spent $540, said he gets irritated when members exceed their budgets.

"I take my job seriously about saving money," he said, adding that he has paid out of his pocket for some of his trips to Atlanta.

Five board members -- Mrs. Curtis, Jimmy Atkins, Venus Cain, Helen Minchew and Joe Scott -- have registered for a conference in Savannah next month. Board members said the information they receive from the conferences is valuable.

"We're not there partying," Mrs. Curtis said. "We're in sessions all day."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

BOARD TRAVEL EXPENSES

Individual travel allowances for Richmond County school board members were reduced to $1,980 in October when the board approved 10 percent cuts to most of its budgets. Here's what board members have spent on travel this school year:

BOARD MEMBER.......TOTAL SPENT

Jimmy Atkins.......$540

Marion Barnes.......$2,271.38

Venus Cain.......$577.56

Eloise Curtis.......$2,020.68

Frank Dolan.......$540

Alex Howard.......$465

Helen Minchew.......$655.17

Jack Padgett.......$2,724.08

Barbara Pulliam.......$2,704.49

Joe Scott.......$1,846.52

Source: Richmond County Board of Education