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Here are a few tidbits I couldn’t fit neatly into my story on meals and other conference costs being charged to Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students:

  • School board member Richard Barrera questioned why the expense limit for meals purchased by Superintendent Terry Grier was lifted last October. The change happened before Barrera was elected to the board. “That seems more than adequate,” Barrera said of the original limit of $30 per person per meal, which included exceptions for meetings with people who could help the school district.
  • Spokesman Bernie Rhinerson, who attended the conference, said that the dinners and other meals were crucial in building relationships with legislators and other school officials. “If you don’t have those relationships, they don’t respond to you. You’re just another piece of paper or another e-mail. That’s how you build valuable relationships in Sacramento and Washington.” He also thought that the meal expenses were the wrong thing to focus on. “If you say, ‘Oh my gosh, they spent $45 for a meal,’ you are losing the point of why these things are important.” He added that the staffers did not charge the school district for working on the weekend when the conference was held.

Board President Shelia Jackson, who attended the D.C. conference along with Grier and other San Diego Unified trustees and employees, said that in retrospect, the meals could have been scaled back without detracting from the networking that she and others gained from the conference. “We could sit in our hotel rooms or the lounge or somewhere and have the same conversations,” she said. “The meeting itself is very, very important. The actual location of the meeting — no, it can be done in the lobby.”

  • Grier said that while people may be focusing on the conference costs, superintendent expenses have actually dropped significantly during his watch. “Last year the overall expense for travel was ridiculous,” he said. “We greatly reduced it for the coming year. I had inherited the budget that Carl (former superintendent Carl Cohn) had put together for the superintendent’s office.” I haven’t requested the documents yet to check — I’ll do it and post the results when we get them.
EMILY ALPERT

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