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Buffalo School Board expenses for meetings, travel, memberships cited

The Buffalo Board of Education spent more than $180,000 last year on expenses for its meetings, travel and memberships to professional organizations.

That included $23,355 for meeting expenses, including food that board members eat before their weekly meetings, and $132,568 for membership dues to groups that largely serve as political lobbyists in Albany and Washington.

The information came out as part of an audit of board and district spending in these areas presented at Wednesday night’s committee meeting.

Some members said the board should take a close look at these expenditures, and whether the money could be better spent in other places – namely the classroom.

“We have a serious financial shortage facing us,” said board member Larry Quinn.

Spending by and for board members in these areas is just a small portion of overall district expenses. The district spent an additional $610,000 on meeting expenses, membership dues and travel for other district employees.

In some areas, expenses have been on the rise in recent years.

For example, expenses for board meetings increased from about $53,000 in 2012 to about $79,000 in 2015. Much of that went to pay for meals and snacks for board members and other district employees.

The district has budgeted about $92,000 for such expenses for this fiscal year.

“There is a trend here when we look at our meeting expenses where they seem to be growing,” said Richard F. Calipari, the board’s claims auditors.

Travel expenses also are on the rise. In 2012, the district spent about $256,000 for board and district travel.

Last year, that number was $452,000.

Board members spent $132,568 on membership dues to professional organizations, including the Council of Great City Schools, the Conference of Big 5 School Districts and the New York State School Boards Association.

The highest dues expense is for the Conference of Big 5, which serves as a lobbying and support group for the state’s five largest urban school systems. The board pays $70,000 each year to be part of that organization.

Board members also discussed revamping how they conduct business, with Quinn submitting a resolution proposing that they cut the number of meetings each month from four to two.

Under the proposed meeting structure, the board would conduct one business meeting to hear public comment and vote on policy items. It would hold a second meeting in a workshop setting to discuss issues that eventually will come up for a vote.

Now, the board conducts two business meetings and four committees each month, a schedule that has it meeting for hours every Wednesday.

Superintendent Kriner Cash said the proposed model is similar to one used by other school districts elsewhere in the country.

Cash said he supports the proposed structure, noting that the amount of time spent in the weekly meetings cuts into staff time to work on other initiatives. “This has to become a structure in which we can actually get things done,” Cash said. “I think that’s an efficient structure.”