PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ travel has spiraled out of control under Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet.
Hamlet has taken 23 taxpayer-paid trips out of the state and out of the county in his three years at the helm.
Places like Denver, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Miami. He’s also traveled to New Orleans, Chicago and Los Angeles multiple times each.
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Responding to KDKA’s reports, DePasquale found that under Hamlet the district’s total travel expenditures have been a problem.
“I’ve audited school districts all over the state, this type of travel budget is unacceptable,” DePasquale said.
The auditor general found the district’s 2019 travel budget of $453,000 is more than double that of The School District Of Philadelphia’s budget of $218,000, even though Philadelphia has roughly 10 times more students.
As a result, Pittsburgh’s travel spending amounts to more than $19 dollars per student, compared to about $1 per student in Philadelphia.
“In the city of Pittsburgh, are the taxpayers and the students getting 19 times the benefit of what’s happening in Philadelphia? I find that hard to believe,” DePasquale said.
DePasquale began auditing district travel expenses after KDKA exposed the now-infamous trip to Cuba by Hamlet and four of his top administrators, provided by a former district vendor last April.
“I have yet to see any justification for the Cuba trip,” Depasquale said.
DePasquale called the trip a junket, which violated district policies — including traveling out of the country without board approval.
“The board should have approved this trip before it happened, and there should have been a written report about how the taxpayer and the students benefited. Neither of those things happened. Unacceptable,” DePasquale said.
All this while the district is proposing a property tax increase to cover a $20 million budget deficit.
“It’s very concerning when you have this type of tax increase proposed when you also have some of these unacceptable expenditures. I believe a tax increase is a last resort, and when you have some of these items on the table, it’s clearly not looking like a last resort,” he said.
Hamlet released a statement Wednesday morning in response to the Auditor General’s review. It reads, in part:
“One result of that audit was a clear indication that we needed to upgrade our professional development significantly. Simply put, we need more people in our District to be better acquainted with cutting-edge theory and practice in public school education. We, therefore, expanded our professional development budget to allow for this type of development across a wider array of staff and administrators.
“While we always seek opportunities to supplement professional development related travel utilizing grant funds whenever possible, our current spending amounts to .06% of the overall District General Fund expenditures. Furthermore, it is in line with what many comparable districts around the country are spending. The auditor’s comparison to Philadelphia is clearly an attempt to make statistics work against the District. Philadelphia is a school district that was under state oversight for 16 years during which time all investments were minimal. Even so, a District survey in 2018, found overall travel expenses in Philadelphia totaled $924,000 compared to the $362,705 expended in PPS for travel-related professional development.
“I recognize that any new spending is cause for concern in a District that is funded by taxpayer dollars. I also know that an investment in our staff development will pay dividends for years to come in improving the quality of public-school education in Pittsburgh.”