Employees and top administrators for Metro Nashville Public Schools continued to travel out-of-state in the weeks and months following a travel freeze imposed by Superintendent Dr. Shawn Joseph.
A Channel 4 I-Team investigation revealed that employees embarked on 80 out-of-state work trips from late October to early March, according to an open records request.
Joseph imposed the temporary travel freeze on September 26 in hopes of scrutinizing work-related travel and ensuring the trips aligned with the district’s priorities.
Since then, employees have racked up more than $590,000 in travel costs on the taxpayer’s dime.
Spokeswoman Ameerah Palacios said federal grants financed most of the trips but did not clarify how many.
The destinations include everywhere from New Orleans to Los Angeles to Vancouver, Canada.
MNPS records indicate 75 percent of those trips were tied to professional conferences.
So what about the rest of the trips? We don’t know because Metro Schools hasn’t responded to our specific questions.
In a memo, Joseph did note exceptions to the freeze could be made, even listing whom to contact for consideration. But it turns out, some of those administrators who could grant the exceptions took trips themselves.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Monique Felder traveled to Pensacola, Savannah and Amelia Island, where leaders stayed at the Ritz-Carlton.
Chief of Schools Dr. Sito Narcisse joined Felder, Joseph, and 12 other staff members in Vancouver, before eventually traveling to New Orleans.
“This is the definition of hypocrisy, period,” said MNPS parent Mary Holden.
The travel freeze was temporary, but it’s unclear when it precisely ended.
The president of the Metro Nashville Education Association says the district should develop specific guidelines on travel, instead of imposing a travel freeze.
“There needs to be specific travel guidelines to determine when it’s appropriate to go on a training out of town,” said MNEA president Erick Huth.
Huth said Metro Schools could save money by bringing experts to Nashville for local training or utilizing local experts already employed by the district.
It’s an issue we had hoped to discuss with Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson on Wednesday, an interview that was offered to us when spokeswoman Ameerah Palacios learned the I-Team would be attending a regular school board meeting to ask questions.
Henson led the analysis of district-wide expenditures earlier in the school year.
But on Wednesday morning Palacios canceled the interview without explanation.
When the I-Team visited the MNPS central office on Wednesday afternoon, a security guard confirmed Palacios was in her office down the hall.
Instead of speaking with the I-Team, Palacios relayed a message through the same security guard.
“She says if you don’t have an appointment she needs you guys to leave,” the security guard said.
“We’re just asking for answers on whether or not our interview will be re-scheduled,” said reporter Alanna Autler.
“She says if you don’t have an appointment today then you need to leave,” the security guard replied.
A statement from MNPS claimed all of the trips were “important to the work of the district.”
The statement noted that “the review of district-wide spending has been completed,” even though the district will continue to monitor travel expenditures.
It’s unclear how many trips were rejected under the travel freeze, or how many trips involved teachers and students.
The I-Team asked for clarification on 20 trips to places such as Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Arlington, VA, that did not appear to be associated with conferences, according to the data provided in the open records requests.
MNPS did not provide clarification by deadline.
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