According to records obtained by IdahoReporter.com, staffers in the Idaho Department of Education (DOE), including the head of the agency, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, traveled more in fiscal year 2010 than they did in 2009. Luna, who spoke with IdahoReporter.com at the Idaho Republican Party convention Saturday, believes there is immense value in his traveling the state to meet with public school students.
For fiscal year 2009, which ran from July 1, 2008, until June 30, 2009, Luna and staffers incurred about $29,000 in travel costs. In fiscal year 2010 through the end of April, the department spent approximately $3,000 more on travel, though the records didn't include the whole fiscal year. The records issued by the department include July 1, 2009, through May 1, 2010, leaving out the final two months of fiscal year 2010. In that time span, DOE staffers incurred $32,409 in travel expenses.
Luna believes there is value in visiting children across the state because he feels the experiences make him a better administrator. ”It has value for the students and I know it has tremendous value for me. I can’t imagine being state superintendent and not spending in the classrooms and in the schools across the state. You can’t just sit in an office in downtown Boise and assume that the decisions that you’re making, the policies that you’re contemplating … you can’t assume that you make wise decisions if you never get out of your office,” Luna told IdahoReporter.com.
The department's travel budget may be trending downward, however. In the first four months of calendar year 2009, the department ran up $11,000 in travel dollars. For that same time period in calendar year 2010, the department paid $5,000 less for travel, totaling $6,156 for trips in January through the end of April.
Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for the department, said that the drop in travel dollars wasn't the result of direct action or the institution of a travel limit by the department, but rather part of a long-term approach to reducing the state's expenses. "Since he took office in 2007, Luna has taken steps to scrutinize travel expenses, especially when it comes to out-of-state travel. For example, since 2007, Luna has had final approval on all out-of-state travel. When the economy took a turn for the worse and state revenues began to decline, Luna made sure the staff at the State Department of Education examined travel costs even further," McGrath said in an e-mail to IdahoReporter.com. Luna believes, McGrath explained, that more taxpayer dollars should go to education and less to travel for administrators. "Luna believes every dollar we save in administration at the state level is another dollar that we can put in the classroom, where it’s needed most," said McGrath.