The superintendent of a school district outside Austin will no longer be required to submit travel, meal and other expense receipts -- a move being criticized by transparency advocates.
Instead of submitting receipts for travel and meal expenses, Eanes Independent School District Superintendent Nola Wellman will receive an additional $10,000 a year for travel and meal expenses. The additional cash is on top of her yearly salary of more than $200,000.
The lack of receipts will likely make it more difficult for the public to access specifics about the superintendent’s taxpayer-funded travel. If documentation of a dinner, hotel stay or airfare is not required to be submitted to the school district, then there are few public records of the travel and associated expenses.
According to a story in the West Lake Picayune, one Eanes ISD board member, Clint Sayers, voted against the proposal of a stipend because of the lack of transparency and because it would increase Wellman’s retirement pay.
“When it’s done that way, these expenses are now not subject to open records,” he said. “People can’t come out and find out where we are spending our travel money. I think that’s hiding the ball. I think that’s hiding where public money goes. I think the people have the right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”
The board members in support of the stipend said it would increase efficiency in the district and that there are other documents the public can request.
“There are other ways for people to understand what goes on in this district – calendars, emails, etc,” said (board member) Paul Stone. “This was a reasonable request. It’s more efficient for administration.”
In a recent blog post the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas said, “Eanes ISD gets an ‘F’ in Transparency.”
“Even if she chooses another $350 a night hotel suite or expensive dinner on school business. Instead, she’s expected to pay with a flat $10,000 stipend added to her $231,000 annual contract; b) is it an educational expense or simply additional income?”
Do you think Eanes ISD is trying to get around the Texas Public Information Act? Let us know what you think on Twitter @TexasWatchdog or contact Lynn@TexasWatchdog.org, 713-228-2850 or @LWalsh on Twitter.
Suitcase photo by flickr user rich115, used via a Creative Commons license.