State Journal: Judging jaunts; Take two...
Caught in a dispute over whether several taxpayer-financed journeys by its members were legitimate business trips or international vacation junkets, the Michigan Board of Education has adopted a moratorium on foreign travel for now.
The cutoff came after the U.S. Education Department questioned six federally funded trips to Japan and Germany taken by board members, state education department officials, and legislators.
According to Prentice Echols, who examined state records for the Education Department, the funds were intended for use only by teachers, some trips did not receive prior written approval, and those who made the trips failed to write required reports.
Mr. Echols's charges--reported in The Detroit News--prompted both the department's inspector general's office and the Michigan Senate to launch investigations.
"I wouldn't allow [the board members] to take a trip across the street to go to the dog catcher's wagon," Mr. Echols was quoted as saying.
Mr. Echols has since become unavailable for comment, according to a department spokesman.
The state Senate found that no rules or laws were violated, although the inspector general is still investigating.
Cherry Jacobus, president of the state board, says the visits were crucial to establishing teacher-exchange programs with foreign countries and were beneficial to the board's current focus on global education.
But Ms. Jacobus said the board banned foreign travel "to show we are sensitive to public opinion."
"The perception of the people reading the news reports is that the board travels a lot," she said. "And perception oftentimes is mistaken for reality."
When Gov. Norman H. Bangerter addressed the Utah Education Association recently, he noted that the hefty glass of water on the podium would help him "digest the large quantity of aspirin I've received lately."
The remark was in reference to a comment Mr. Bangerter made after state teachers staged protests of the legislature's decision to use a budget surplus for a tax cut rather than for education.
When he gets upset, Mr. Bangerter said then, "I take two aspirin and go back to work, and that's what teachers should do."
The remark led many teachers to send the Governor bottles of aspirin.
Of the remark, Mr. Bangerter said: "It was unfortunate and I'd hope we don't want to dwell on that."--rrw