JOPLIN — Top Joplin school administrators have spent tens of thousands of dollars on travel since the May 2011 tornado, much of it for trips to express gratitude to groups who helped the district recover.
Receipts from credit cards issued to Superintendent C.J. Huff and Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer showed $42,625 spent on travel since the tornado damaged or destroyed several schools, the Joplin Globe reported Monday . Nearly half of that — $20,402 — was travel costs for other district staff, with Huff spending at least $13,600 and Besendorfer spending at least $8,600.
Organizations that hosted or sponsored some of the events that Joplin administrators attended reimbursed the district for more than $16,000 of the $42,625, according to the records.
Huff last week acknowledged that administrators have traveled extensively during the past two years but said that's starting to slow down.
The "thank you campaign" to meet with groups around the state, such as Missouri National Guard and the St. Louis Suburban School Nurses' Association, kept the city in the spotlight and encouraged continuing donations, he said.
"One thing they tell me in our office (is that) donations started to taper off at the one-year mark, and then we started this thank you campaign, and the donations started to pick up again," he said.
Huff said some of the travel includes trips that would not have occurred except for the tornado, with administrators speaking about their experiences — such as Huff's presentations at the April 2012 Spring Preparedness Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, and the annual Summit on Emergency Disaster Planning for Colleges, Universities and K-12 Schools in Toronto in October 2012. Other trips involved accepting post-tornado honors.
Some expenses involved trips that administrators take every year, such as the Missouri School Boards' Association conference and the National School Boards Association conference to lobby politicians in Washington, D.C., Huff said.
The receipts showed flights were booked in economy or coach classes and many meals were bought at fast-food restaurants, although some receipts were from higher-end hotels in larger metropolitan areas.
Board of Education president Jeff Flowers said the board approved all of the administration's travel over the past two years.
"At the time, there was a lot of support pouring in for the Joplin schools. It (the campaign) was important to us because without a lot of the help that we received, I don't know if we would be back up and running as fast as we were," he said.