Education Action Group questions TUSD's spending - Tucson News Now

Education Action Group questions TUSD's spending

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Public outcry, job cuts and school closures were all part of the struggle of filling a $17 million hole in TUSD last year.  Now Education Action Group, a nonprofit based in Michigan, is calling TUSD's spending into question.

"What we constantly hear is that schools don't have enough money, they need to raise taxes, or they need more money from the state, those sorts of things, and what we try to say is, 'let's actually look at where the dollars are going,'" said Kyle Olson, CEO and founder of Education Action Group.

Among their highlights, they show that TUSD spent $389,000 on airfares and hotels.  Some of those places were Loews Ventana Canyon and Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C.  TUSD responded that it seeks government rates, and those places are often where conventions are located.  Olson agreed that professional development is important.  But he also said that technology offers less expensive alternatives to travel.

"They don't seem to be coming up with a better way, even though with technology and digital learning and all of that schools are trying to implement, it seems to me that there are solutions that would really cut down the cost and put those resources back in the classroom," he said.

The nonprofit pointed out more than $800,000 in legal fees, more than $5 million on computers, and more than $200,000 to the special master overseeing TUSD's desegregation.  The district said that these are expected operational costs, and pointed out that an independent audit last year found no inappropriate expenses.  But Olson still awaited an explanation.

"We don't come at it as though they're doing something wrong.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.  But we're just asking questions, and we don't think it's too much for them to answer the few questions that we ask," he said.

TUSD has been combing through the records that it sent Olson to offer more explanation about the expenses.  It offered this statement Wednesday night and said that it would provide more comment on Thursday:

Statement for KOLD from Cara Rene, Director of Communications at TUSD

 District leaders have done an initial review of the report from the Education Action Group that highlights certain expenditures in the district. We found much of what was highlighted in the report, such as travel for professional development opportunities, facility rentals for large events such as College Night, legal expenses tied to the federally mandated Unitary Status Plan, and numerous field trip outings for our students to be an expected part of district operations. While we will continue to review the line items in the report to ensure that all expenditures are appropriate under district protocols and expectations, we are confident that spending at TUSD has been handled under the strict guidelines for good financial stewardship of funds. In fact, a CPA firm's independent audit of TUSD finances for the 2012-2013 School Year showed no negative findings in the areas of travel, food, or other areas in the report. TUSD has recently been lauded for improved financial practices and we are proud that the community can be assured that such practice is a priority in district operations.

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