in Houston, Texas
HISD says travel policy revisions still on track for start of school; timeframe won't allow for required board approval
Thursday, Aug 12, 2010, 04:40PM CST
By Lynn Walsh

While the Houston Independent School District has nearly doubled its payments to a local travel agency this year compared to 2009, a district official’s promise of a new district-wide travel policy by the start of the school year has not held true.

UPDATE (5:07 p.m.) But that official still maintains the revisions will be ready next week.

Poor planning, a preferences for costly direct flights, agency fees for flight bookings and a toothless travel policy have led to unnecessary costs for district travel, a Texas Watchdog investigation found.

Texas Watchdog has been asking HISD administrators and Superintendent Terry Grier about the high travel costs and sometimes disregard of the travel policy’s preference for driving short distances.

Grier has said the district would carefully look at “any issues you have with travel” and declined further comment. Responses from HISD administrators have generally been via prepared statements that leave some questions unanswered.

One thing HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett did tell Texas Watchdog in June is that a new policy would be in place by the start of this school year.
“As a result of the new organizational change and elimination of the regional offices, many policies and administrative regulations are being reviewed. This includes travel. The district will have updated travel guidelines ready for schools and departments prior to the start of school."
The start of classes for some schools is Monday.

The August board meeting for HISD trustees is tonight, the last opportunity before the start of school for trustees to approve a new policy. The agenda contains no mention of such.

Texas Watchdog asked both Garrett and Grier’s Chief of Staff Michele Pola about the approval of the new policy. Neither has responded.

UPDATE (5:07 p.m.): Garrett said in an e-mail this afternoon that the district is still on track to update travel guidelines in its finance procedures manual for distribution next week. But it's unclear how they can do so without board approval tonight. These "travel policies are established and approved by the Board of Education," the document says.

The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center, 1800 W. 18th St.

Texas Watchdog will be there and will again ask about the status of a new travel policy.

Follow @TexasWatchdog on Twitter for live updates from the meeting tonight or search #HISD on Twitter.
Editor's note: Texas Watchdog published a brief item about Garrett's statement around 4:45 p.m. That item has been incorporated into the update paragraphs above.
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