(Editor's note: We have changed the original copy to reflect clarifications made after the story was published. The video has been removed because it did not reflect the revised copy.
Original: The district also spent more than a hundred thousand dollars $103,491 at hotels right here in Louisville. Mostly to rent space for orientations, workshops and diners.
Revised: The district also spent more than a hundred thousand dollars $103,491 at hotels right here in Louisville, mostly to rent space for orientations, workshops and a retirement dinner for teachers.
Original: JCPS has increased property taxes to raise additional revenue, six years in a row.
Revised: JCPS has increased the property tax rate six years in a row.)
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Is the Jefferson County Public School system taking taxpayers for a ride. Or is it investing in local students future?
JCPS spent more than $1 million on travel last year alone. At least part of that could have been used to buy textbooks, technology and even hire additional staff. But JCPS leaders said what it got out of the taxpayer funded trips, is far more valuable.
From Vegas to Vail, D.C. to Disney World, JCPS has money to travel - even as the cash strapped district tells taxpayers it needs more money.
JCPS has increased the property tax rate six years in a row.
JCPS Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin, defended the travel.
"You know it's not where the conference is held it's what the conference is about," Hardin said. "That's the importance. And in order to have student achievement you must have professional development."
Professional development conferences make up the majority of the $1,153,868 JCPS spent on trips according to numbers provided by Hardin. More than $310,390 came directly from the district's general fund. The other $843,477 is state and federal money.
Hardin said all of it was well spent because professional development, where teachers and administrators learn new skills to improve performance, is critical to raising test scores.
"It takes professional development in order to have student achievement," Hardin said.
JCPS went all over country in that mission. A review of JCPS travel expenses found:
$2,835 for staff members to attend conferences in Walt Disney World;
$8,268 for 11 staff members to attend a summer learning seminar at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa;
$8,570 for 22 staff members to attend teaching conferences at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the Washington, DC waterfront;
$13,098 for 32 teachers to attend conferences at the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
"If you have students in the same classroom that are of different abilities, how do you teach the same lesson to those students," said Jody Johnson, a teacher and teacher trainer at Seneca High School.
Johnson likes professional development conferences so much, she took that trip to the Venetian to study differentiated instruction, three months after she had gone to a different professional development conference. This one, also, in Vegas.
"I learned a lot about how to help teachers to perfect their craft, use strategies to affect student achievement, and we've seen results with that," Johnson said.
In all, 5 JCPS staff members when to that conference on leadership and coaching other teachers, held at Caesar's Palace. It cost taxpayers $3,342.
JCPS leaders said the conferences in Las Vegas played a critical role in raising test scores at Seneca and other low performing high schools in the district.
The Education Action Group, an advocacy organization that has studied the spending of 30 school districts including JCPS, thinks there's a less expensive way to do it.
"We just wonder is this the most efficient use of hard earned tax dollars?" said Kyle Olson, founder of EAG.
Olson said JCPS could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year replacing trips to professional development conferences with webinars and distance learning for teachers.
"It seems to me that with technology, there are better ways to accomplish the same mission," Olson said. "And yet schools just seem to be stuck in the old way of sending people off all over the country."
Hardin said JCPS is using more webinars and cutting back on the number teachers from each school it sends to a conference.
JCPS also started requiring additional approvals on travel after staff members from four schools ran up a $14,330 bill at the Rough River Lodge for a summer retreat before the 2012 school year.
Over all, JCPS said the money it spends on travel has steadily dropped, and was actually down more than $400,000 last year from the one before.
"Could that be used somewhere else? Yes," Hardin said. "But it's not all about just books. It is making sure that person delivering that instruction is the top quality."
JCPS isn't just spending money on out of town hotels.
The district also spent more than a hundred thousand dollars $103,491 at hotels right here in Louisville, mostly to rent space for orientations, workshops and a retirement dinner for teachers.
Hardin said the district just doesn't have the type of facilities that could adequately house those type of events.
The Kentucky Auditor's office is currently taking a wide ranging look at the Jefferson County Public School System, studying everything from travel, to how they're spending money in town, and a number of other things as well.