San Benito school district spending $346,138 on trip to nation’s capital

And questions are floating all over town about how the latest trip is being funded – how much is part of a grant and how much will be paid for by San Benito taxpayers.

In February, the school district board approved a purchase order for just more than $346,000 to the International Center for Leadership in Education.

That is apparently to send administration and staff in June to a two-day at-risk student workshop in Washington D.C.

Board member Angel Mendez said Monday, the district will spend a total of about $400,000, much of which will come from a federal grant. However, he didn’t provide a specific amount.

Board member Victor Rosas said officials will dip into district coffers to fund about $100,000 for the trip.

“It is substantial,” Mendez said about the costs. “There still needs to be some accountability.”

It remains unclear how much of the overall expenses will be covered through the grant.

Superintendent Nate Carman did not respond to a message requesting information on the trip’s funding and other details that have not yet been answered regarding costs.

Isabel Gonzalez, the district’s interim public information officer, was out of the office and unavailable for comment yesterday.

The approval of the purchase order occurred as part of a consent agenda item Feb. 25. That’s when the board approved without any questions or comments, Carman’s request for staff to attend the workshop aimed at helping at-risk students succeed in school.

Apparently, the district will send 35 district personnel to the workshop, including Carman, three assistant superintendents, nine elementary school principals, six secondary school principals, five curriculum and instruction directors, three elementary school instructional coaches, four secondary school instructional coaches and four teachers.

Mendez said the $400,000 total included travel, meals and registration for the conference.

However, no specific information about expenses was available.

There also are some concerns that have nothing to do with money.

Mendez said he is concerned the district is sending administrators but only four classroom teachers.

“My question is, are all personnel going to directly impact the classroom,” he said. “I don’t think (that) will directly impact the classroom.”

However, board member Victor Rosas said the workshop will help train administrators who attend.

“It’s a good training,” he said. “We have to cross-train a lot. The learning is for everyone.”

The workshop will help educators identify struggling students to give them support to help them succeed in school.

“The rationale for his purchase is to address the need of increasing the rigor and the relevance of the instruction that is being provided to our students,” a document states. “The consistent instructional protocols will ensure that instruction is being delivered at the highest levels of rigor and relevance with fidelity. This is essential to the educational relevance of the students of San Benito CISD.”

Questions raised

Critics have questioned the trip’s expense.

S.R. Garcia, the district’s former longtime police chief, paid for a road-side sign that put the trip’s cost at $455,914.55.

“It’s excessive,” Garcia said yesterday, arguing state seminars could provide the same training. “It’s like I’m going to give you all a little vacation.”

Last year, Garcia said the district funded a similar trip to Orlando.

“It’s a message I want to send out to the community,” Garcia, father of Mary Lou Garcia, a school board member, and Jack Garcia, the district’s former longtime after-school program director.

The sign also states the district is spending the money on the Washington D.C. trip while Carman canceled the district chess team’s $17,000 nonrefundable airline tickets to fly to Houston for the state championship tournament last month.

S.R. Garcia said Carman ordered Jack Garcia to charter a bus instead.

The bus, he noted, broke down in Refugio before a parent stopped the driver to continue driving despite the vehicle’s brakes losing pressure.

Earlier this month, Carman fired Jack Garcia for using a district credit card to buy the tickets without the superintendent’s authorization.

However, in an appeal, Jack Garcia argued he notified two assistant superintendents of the plane trip which he funded like he had funded similar trips for years.

“He approved that trip but denied the $17,000 to send the kids to Houston and the bus broke down and all that led to Jack being fired,” S.R. Garcia said.