Tech Travel Update: $400,000. Seven offices. A handful of employees. For next year alone.

UPDATED: See postscript regarding possibly problematic BCPS admin financial disclosure statements related to travel and consulting.

Joanne C. Simpson

Looks like Baltimore County Public Schools administrators will be heading to more snazzy hotels in Florida, California, Arizona, and other environs next school year—despite increased concerns over school district spending priorities.

The 2018-19 BCPS proposed budget is out, and answers to school board member questions released yesterday have turned up a few bon mots. Remember those nebulous “other charges” in the current  budget that appeared to be slated for conference dues, mileage, and travel. Well, they were, and still are: To the tune of nearly $400,000 next year for just seven offices, which employ about 16 employees–and not all of those people even travel. 

While school district scandals mushroom with the indictment filed against former superintendent Dallas Dance–and despite increased calls for an independent legislative audit and possible investigator general-BCPS administrators’ controversial spending on travel and conferences is set to go forward unabated.

Taxpayer-funded administrator travel expenses for digital-related departments–with a litany of hopscotch trips nationwide to edtech conferences–outpace those of most other district offices, records show.

Consider: the office of Executive Director of Information Technology, which has more than $88,000 set aside for mileage reimbursement alone, and another $10,000 in conference fees and overnight lodging and meals, totaling nearly $100,000. There are only three employees (FTE) listed in the budget.

Compare that to: the Director of CTE and Fine Arts, which includes some technology education, as well as music, dance, and visual arts, for two staffers: A paltry $550 for overnight travel, and a total of $1,500, including conference registration or mileage. 

Meanwhile, under the Executive Director of Innovative Learning, (with three FTEs, or employee positions) more than $44,000 has been set aside for overnight stays at hotels, with a total including mileage, conference fees and dues of $55,000 for next fiscal year alone. Perhaps other employees benefit from these reimbursements as well.

As previously reported in the Towson Flyer,  Ryan Imbriale, executive director of the Department of Innovative Learning, has pursued numerous out-of-state events: In 2016, “Imbriale attended the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, along with his wife, director of IT Enterprise Applications Jeanne Imbriale and a phalanx of 10 other BCPS employees related to STAT. Both Imbriales and Information Technology director Lloyd Brown also attended the IMS Global consortium in Denver, Colorado in May, titled “The Future of EdTech Starts Here,” among numerous other jaunts.”

(Ongoing requests to BCPS to disclose employee travel-related spending–and outline actual costs under “other charges”–have gone unanswered despite numerous inquiries since spring of last year and before. The current budget review, however, has shaken a few details loose.)

The office of Blended Learning (also with only 3 positions listed) is budgeted for $81,200 in overnight travel, and another $44,400 for conference registration fees, mileage and professional dues–for a total of $125,600. See answers to board member questions, Appendix. (Also, despite controversy over superintendent travel, $10,000 next year remains slated for the office of the superintendent for overnight lodging and expenses. With mileage reimbursement, “professional dues,” and other taxpayer-funded costs pushing the 2018-19 total past $42,000).

Travel-related “other charges” across the board, for dozens of other BCPS offices and departments, are likely much, much higher, as detailed in the Jan. 23 admin responses, appendix p. 18-42. Pull out your calculators and a fine toothed comb. And extrapolate the costs back three years, under those offices as listed in the budget itself. (A free HP EliteBook Revolve 810 G2 to anyone who finds a grand total for fiscal year 2019, or before. Just kidding on the prize. Hewlett-Packard discontinued the troubled $1,400 laptop/tablet hybrid lauded (promoted) by both BCPS and HP as a centerpiece of the digital initiative known as STAT).

UPDATE: A preliminary review of the fiscal year ’17 and FY18 “other charges” listed in the proposed BCPS budget indicate similar amounts for such travel- and dues-related charges: A possible total of $1.2 million over three years (including FY19)againin just several digital-related departments/offices. (Will update as figures come in). See postscript on disclosure issues.

One tip sent my way, worth a few HP Revolve broken keys, and more: Look also under broader departments, such as Executive Director of Innovative Learning, which oversees Blended Learning, eLearning and the Office of Innovation and Digital Safety (whose amounts are counted in the tally above, at more than $200,000). There’s also a few departments with more employees, such as Library Media Programs and Digital Resources ($33,300 overnight travel, total $60,000), Educational Options ($23,000 overnight, total $46,000), and the Magnet Office. ($8,100 overnight, total $15,900).

Overall, number crunchers out there, please take a closer look at the 2018-19 budget proposed by Interim Superintendent Verletta White, since lots of high costs related to the digital initiative–software license fees, curriculum, instructional materials—show up in all sorts of line items and footnotes. Throughout, millions are siphoned off from here or there to pay for STAT. The administration has said that funding for the experimental laptop-per-student program is coming from “all areas of operation.” For a few examples, just some of the funds to be shifted to Information Technology:

  • A decrease of $236 thousand in supplies and materials, transferred to Executive Director Information Technology for S.T.A.T.
  • An increase of $10.4 million for S.T.A.T.
  • An increase of $461 thousand, redirected from schools and offices for S.T.A.T.”  Source: FY19 budget, p. 128, and p. 204

And while some monies are being pulled from standard textbook coffers, as fewer hardcopy textbooks are used, those funds cannot cover STAT’s rising costs, as BCPS claims. For example, “one-time” (yet yearly charges) for expanding curricula—primarily software, platforms, apps, etc. is currently a $5.2 million paragraph, with such costs tucked into the Chief Academic Officer’s budget, documents show.

A few of the offerings: “One-time instructional materials are required to continue implementation of new curriculum for English language arts ($1,630,000),” which would likely include Curriculum Associates/iReady and “social studies ($2,101,540),” which has been previously tied to Discovery Education’s pricey “techbooks.” 

Please contact any of the powers-to-be and request and support aSpecial Review Audit by the Maryland’s Office of Legislative Audits.

For additional info, see also this FY19 budget work session document. And again, the proposed FY18-19 budget here. What gems might you find? Will update further. Feel free to comment, and share and share widely.

POSTSCRIPT:

And what about disclosure of such travel, affiliations, and possible gifts, directly or indirectly from the conference sponsors (including the ASU-GSV Summit in California, which the administration confirmed was paid for by the conference)? See this:

“Should be known re: Interim Superintendent V. White’s recent remarks (and for other BCPS admins), that financial disclosure statements are indeed clear on reporting any outside income. The question posed directly to the employee under Schedule H: “During the reporting period, did you or any member of your immediate family receive any earned income from an entity other than the Board of Education?”

In addition, regarding “Schedule D: Gifts: During the reporting period, did you receive any gift(s), directly or indirectly, in excess of a value of $20, or a series of gifts from the same donor with a cumulative value of $100 or more, from a person or entity [that] engaged in an activity that was regulated or controlled by the Board of Education.”

(The controversial Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI), was attended by White, as well as former superintendent Dallas Dance who is facing criminal perjury charges related partly to not disclosing income from ERDI, at least $3,000 per year over several years. White also did not disclose similar payments on statements, which she said was an oversight. She was not named in the indictment.

ERDI-fostered high-priced personal meetings with client companies, many of the edtech, who were and are doing business with BCPS, including DreamBox Learning and iReady, with which Dance met via ERDI. Ms. White has apparently refused to name ERDI-client companies with which she met at luxe ERDI conferences and related.

Also in the forms: “What was the nature of the gift? (Example: book, restaurant meal, theater tickets, etc.)” “Directly or indirectly” would seem to include meals and flights and hotel stays, all expenses that ERDI usually covers. Here’s one of several locations of ERDI conferences reportedly attended by V. White and Dallas Dance in Vancouver, Canada. Has the value(s) of any of these pricey perks been disclosed in particular by V. White, as well as Exec director of Innovative Learning Ryan Imbriale, or other admins who traveled often as well? “Spring 2016 ERDI Conference will now be held at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa,” erdi.ca

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6 thoughts on “Tech Travel Update: $400,000. Seven offices. A handful of employees. For next year alone.

  1. meanwhile teachers are not allowed to accept anything with a value greater than $24.99 or he/she will run the risk of ethical violation. #notripabroadwithstudents

    Like

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