Far-away field trips

Public school teaching may not be the most lucrative profession in the United States, but at one suburban Missouri school district, it comes with some attractive perks. Teachers, principals, and school board members in the Riverview Gardens school district have racked up nearly $2 million in travel expenses on junkets to exotic locales such as San Francisco and Cape Town, South Africa over the last four years, an investigative report by David Hunn and Jaimi Dowdell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed this month.

Expenses billed to the school district included room service meals, pedicures, and trips to art galleries, as well as travel and hotel costs for hundreds of trips—all in a school district with shrinking finances and allegations of corruption on the part of a former superintendent. But state auditors failed to spot the exorbitant travel expenses because many were mislabeled in the district’s bookkeeping. When Hunn and Dowdell went through the records line by line, they found that Riverview’s expenses totaled twice what one education expert would have expected from a district of its size.

Since the former superintendent was sacked in March, leaving the district’s finances in shambles, such spending has been put on hold. But when confronted by Hunn and Dowdell, many Riverview leaders offered no apologies for their past profligacy.

"The president of the United States travels all over and nobody says anything of it," school board member Marlene Terry told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Terry was linked to 23 trips since January 2003.

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