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Our View: P-Card use leading to waste

Consumer economics is a common course offering at the high school level.

It looks to us like many school district officials ought to re-take the class to better understand how to operate within a tight budget.

Kane County Chronicle reporter Ashley Sloboda this week detailed the prevalent use of procurement cards – commonly called P-cards – by local school districts.

There is not a public school district in the area that has the right to be a spendthrift with taxpayer money, particularly given the strained economics under which schools continue to operate. In many cases, that seemingly obvious message has not been received.

Batavia’s P-Card transactions for the last school year included a $297 dinner at Eddie Merlot in Louisville, Ky., for then-Superintendent Jack Barshinger, Chief Academic Office Brad Newkirk and Assistant Superintendent for Finance Kris Monn. Less than a week later, almost $2,000 was dropped by a group including district officials on a dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse at Wacker Place when they were in Chicago for a conference.

Sounds like Batavia officials have some explaining to do, but they won’t do it. Monn told the Chronicle that the district is not commenting on specific expenses from that time period. Why not? Something tells us if there were an acceptable rationale, those involved would find a way to make that clear.

For the 2012-13 academic year, St. Charles School District 303 spent more than $8,000 at Panera alone in P-Card transactions, while Batavia spent about $4,700 at Pal Joey’s and Kaneland about $3,600 at Paisano’s Pizza.

We recognize there are school events at which providing refreshments seems like the hospitable thing to do, and we’re not going to begrudge school employees for providing visitors the occasional bottle of water or bagel when the occasion calls for it.

But school districts are always wrestling with the need to be frugal when it comes to providing services and equipment that might not fit into the budget. That same logic should apply to entertaining, whether it be themselves or others.

It is especially galling when high-salaried administrators are the ones running up big tabs. They can afford to buy themselves a posh dinner on their own time.

Perhaps school districts should consider establishing a modest per diem amount for certain employees to spend on travel expenses or special events. School boards, too, ought to take a more active role in overseeing the expenditures.

Leaving these purchases up to common sense is leading to embarrassing waste.

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