A state auditor recently found that an Arizona school board spent tens of thousands of dollars to hold meetings out of town to avoid scrutiny and prevent parents from being able to attend.
Under Arizona’s open meeting laws, school districts are not only required to hold public meetings, but also to maximize public access.
However, a review by the Arizona auditor general found that on multiple occasions the Ganado Unified School District has held meetings in other cities, making it nearly impossible for those they represent to attend.
According to a report recently released by the state auditor, the school board — which is located in the city of Ganado, in the northeastern corner of the state a short drive from New Mexico — held meetings at a resort in Flagstaff (260 miles roundtrip) and at a hotel in Tempe (530 miles roundtrip), shielding their activities from the students, parents, and their community.
In the process, the board “wasted more than $48,000 on unnecessary travel,” the report states.
The Tempe meeting included a virtual webinar link on the agenda, but roughly 60 percent of households in the school district’s boundaries do not have an internet subscription, including cellular data, according to the auditor’s findings.
“The District may have violated the State’s open meeting laws by limiting access during discussion of topics that did not meet the definitions of when the public could be lawfully excluded. This limited access prevented the public, staff, parents, and students from actively participating in the District’s governance,” the auditor’s report says.
“When we asked District officials about their decision to hold these 3 Board meetings out of town, they indicated that the District held them out of town to avoid interruptions,” officials added.
The district also spent $26,449 for four or five board members and between six and 16 staff (such as principals, assistant principals, and department supervisors) to attend the out-of-town meetings.
Lodging and meal costs associates with the trips exceeded maximum amounts allowed by the state travel policy, which is also the district policy.
“For the three trips combined, the District paid more than $7,500 over the amount allowed by [Arizona’s] travel policy for meals,” the auditor found.
The investigation also concluded that the Ganado Unified School District has been “operating schools far below capacity,” which resulted in school officials spending between $353,000 and $1,020,000 annually on “other priorities” like building and administrative costs, rather than improving student achievement, according to the report.