The idea that you should never stop learning is certainly not lost on members of the Scotland County Board of Education.
It applies to students, faculty, and staff and, according to a recent expense report, to board members themselves.
A report released last week said that between August 2011 and March of this year, individual school board members claimed expenses as high as $1,615.74 on individual conferences, association memberships, and training sessions, as well as travel arrangements.
During that period, the board spent a total of $11,845.07 on workshops. Another $5,936 was spent to travel to these out-of -town meetings including airplane tickets and hotel reservations. The report said that travel included trips to Boston, Raleigh, Spring Lake, Asheville, and Greensboro.
School officials say that workshops keep them up-to-date on the latest developments in education statewide as well as on a national and global level.
“You’re talking a gamut of forums, centralized specialty learning, breakout sessions - we’re going to have a chance to visit exhibits from vendors across the world,” school board member Terence Williams said. “Some of the courses and classes that I’ve signed up for are policies, technology, and the economic part of education.”
Just this past weekend, Williams along with board Chairman Charles Brown, Jimmy Bennett, and Superintendent Rick Stout, attended a three-day National School Boards Association conference in Boston. More than $7,600 was spent on reservations, plane tickets, and other arrangements related to the annual conference.
“We get to hear presenters who talk about education on the national level,” Brown said. “It keeps us abreast of what’s going on and keeps Scotland County right on the cutting edge of issues affecting education in this really budget-tight time that we’re living in.”
Since August 2011, Brown has spent $1,906 on expenses related to school board business.
“Everybody makes an effort to spend the county dollars in the best way possible without taking any advantage at all of the public money,” Brown added.
Two other members — B.J. Gibson and James Underwood — made travel plans, but were unable to attend the Boston conference. Members are required to reimburse the board for reservations left unfulfilled.
“All of us have situations that have us in limbo on whether we’re going or not,” said Gibson. “Of course, those who don’t go are going to pay their money back.”
Williams has attended one other national school board conference during his tenure as a school board member in Scotland County.
“I have been able to go to one national conference, and that was in Chicago, and the experience itself was really overwhelming: the camaraderie … being able to be around so many seasoned veterans from all walks of life,” said Williams. “We found ourselves being really young among school board members throughout the entire country – being able to glean from their knowledge and their expertise is phenomenal and it makes us better board members.
The national conference as well as conferences and workshops held in North Carolina count towards the 12 training hours required annually of every school board member by the North Carolina School Board Association.
“Just because you were a substitute, or a teacher, or an administrator in education doesn’t mean that you know all aspects of education or the business of education,” Williams said. “There are so many pieces that make up education especially in the public education system.”
Williams is president of the NC Caucus of Black School Board Members, and has attended four conferences in-state in the last six months.
“I’m also very active in Raleigh with the legislative process with what’s going on in the field of education,” he said. “I feel that it’s my responsibility to take all of the opportunities that we can to educate ourselves on that process.”
Gibson agreed, adding that many educational bills and budget cuts will have a direct impact on the school system in Scotland County.
“Right now it is so critical for us to attend these workshops,” said Gibson. “Going gives us information early on as to the many changes that are happening not just on the state level but nationally. Much of what we do with the school system is passed down from the federal or state levels.”
By attending workshops and conferences, Scotland County’s school board members say they draw inspiration from how other boards deal with challenges similar to the ones they face at home.
“We’re not only able to get the information early, we’re able to see what people are doing across the state and the nation having some of the same cuts that we have,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s board-related expenditures in the 2011-2012 fiscal year so far total $1,822.
“Every conference we go to, we receive good insight about how to be effective school board members, how to best represent the interests of children in schools, and how to keep up us legal,” Brown added.
County money spent on memberships to the NC School Board Association and other organizations does pay back throughout the school year, officials said.
“We just had an adoption and had to lay on the table for a month a social media policy as far as what can go on between teachers and students using social media,” Brown said. “That policy was written by the NC School Board Association for us. We didn’t have to choose the language for that because they do studies and use the best legal terminology.”
Terence Williams said he tries to bring back information and news to share with board members who cannot get away quite as often. Williams has incurred the most expense of any school board member since August 2011, having spent $5,879 of school funds on travel expenses, association fees, and conference costs.
“The thing is that we have to make sure that we do not become so insular that we are not aware of what people are going globally,” said Williams. “We certainly need to know how to do business efficiently and effectively and stay current on the global trends that will give our children a fighting chance. I appreciate the confidence that the board has in allowing us to get the information and disperse the information to board members who cannot go out and get more than the required 12 hours.”
Rounding out school board expenditures since August are Jimmy Bennett with $3,356 spent, James Underwood at $2,585, and Darwin Williams at $96. The report did not list expenses for board members Paul Rush or Jeff Byrd. The newspaper was not able to contact Byrd or Rush.