PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet is defending the large travel budget of his district.
After Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale took Hamlet to task for spending close to half a million dollars a year on travel, Controller Michael Lamb said the district has taken no action to rein in those costs.
“Now to be asking for a tax increase, when they haven’t put their financial house in order, is a problem,” Lamb said.
School board president Lynda Wrenn said a tax increase is ill-timed since the district has increased salaries while enrolment has fallen to 21,000 students.
“It’s going to be pretty hard to justify a tax increase when people see enrollment going down, expensive going up and even salaries,” Wrenn said.
The first public hearings on the budget and the tax increase will be in two weeks, when Lamb and others will be asking for aggressive belt-tightening before they ask the public for more money.
DePasquale told KDKA on Tuesday that the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ travel has spiraled out of control under Hamlet.
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“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.
WATCH: Dr. Anthony Hamlet responds to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s comments about the district’s spending.
As a result, Pittsburgh’s travel spending amounts to more than $19 dollars per student, compared to about $1 per student in Philadelphia.
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.”
Pittsburgh Public School Board President Lynda Wrenn issued a statement, saying:
“Let me be clear: the board has addressed the superintendent directly – and in a cooperative manner – as it relates to the district’s travel policy. First, the board’s charter states that we are only to be overseeing the superintendent’s travel, not that of his administrators. Travel numbers pointed out by the auditor general include that of all administrators and staff.
Even so, the board, along with the solicitor and human resources manager, went over district travel policy with the superintendent and executive cabinet. Moving forward, the superintendent has directed new administration policies to be in place that ensure there’s clear employee onboarding of the district’s travel policy.
As a board, the outcome we want for our students is to ensure that they have the best possible education. In order to get to that outcome, we recognize the importance of professional development. We do not want our administrators to be isolated — we want them to be aware of and engaged in best practices. The board has worked to resolve any ambiguity related to travel and will continue the most important work that we are elected to do: advocate for better education opportunities for Pittsburgh Public School students.”