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A newly proposed rule would force San Diego Unified school board members to get approval from the rest of the school board before taking trips or attending conferences that cost the school district.

Currently, school board members ask for school district approval for trips and conferences, and are ultimately approved or denied by the deputy superintendent who oversees academics. She scrutinizes whether the conferences relate to school district business and whether they fit in the budget. Under the new policy, the school board would publicly discuss and decide whether to allow such travel.

“We should be holding ourselves accountable,” said school board President Richard Barrera, who proposed the new policy. “When board members just decide to travel on the district’s dime, that’s not consistent with a spending freeze.”

Even small spending is under the microscope now, as the school district faces an estimated $141.6 million deficit for next year. And San Diego Unified is at pains to prove it is ferreting out waste as it asks voters to approve a new tax that would reap $50 million annually for schools for the next five years. Critics argue it has done too little to reduce costs before turning to taxpayers for more funding.

Barrera is proposing the new rule just after another board member, Shelia Jackson, went to Washington D.C. with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Board Services Director Cheryl Ward said the trip cost the school district about $1,500 including airfare, hotel, transportation and some meals. The trip was approved because it included lobbying legislators on educational issues, Ward said.

Jackson said the trip, which she took along with Chief District Relations Officer Bernie Rhinerson, was a good chance to speak with a united voice about education issues with local business leaders.

“This isn’t aimed at Shelia,” Barrera said. “What Shelia did was what board members have always done in the district. There was never a discussion about whether we were willing to approve these expenses.”

The school board is slated to discuss and vote on the proposed policy next Tuesday.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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