Under Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, district travel has increased by 179 percent, or an average of $24,250 a month, according to findings from the Pennsylvania Auditor General.
According to Auditor General Eugene Depasquale his office found “little or no justification” for the increased spending. He said the funds could be better spent.
“I know there is going to be some travel for professional development reasons. I get it,” he said in a recorded statement. “But spending nearly half a million dollars a year on it is simply inexcusable. Especially when you’re talking about an increase of 180 percent. The taxpayers and students of Pittsburgh deserve better.”
According to the district, the increased spending was a strategic move Hamlet made based on feedback from educators.
“Educators weren’t given the tools to adapt based on best practices from similar urban school districts in other parts of the country,” spokesperson Ebony Pugh said in a statement responding to the Auditor’s report.
Travel costs associated with professional development amounts to .06 percent of the district’s budget according to the statement.
But DePasquale isn’t not convinced that students are benefiting from the spending.
“I understand the need for some travel related to professional development, but there must be greater accountability and justification for travel,” DePasquale said. “District policies – such as requiring most staff to submit a post-trip justification report – are not being uniformly enforced.”
The district says students do benefit from professional development. In the release, Pugh listed four areas of growth, including improved graduation rates and reading proficiency.
“Creating a sea of change of improvement within a large urban school district is a significant undertaking, and not one that we take lightly. While we recognize that we cannot turn achievement around overnight, the investments we have made are already yielding evidence that we are well on our way,” read the statement.
DePasquale began looking into the district’s travel spending when the district launched an investigation into an April trip six administrators, including Hamlet, took to Cuba.
“The Cuba trip is what first caught my attention and no one has been able to provide written justification of how it benefited the district’s students,” DePasquale said. “Without it, how does the public know whether their school district is spending tax dollars wisely?”
The district hired an independent investigator in May to review the trip. Shortly after, City Controller Michael Lamb filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission because Hamlet had not filed financial interest statements.