I-Team: Expense Reports Show Big Bucks Spent at CCSD - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Expense Reports Show Big Bucks Spent at CCSD

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LAS VEGAS -- First it was public salaries, and now the I-Team examines expense reports. We examined three years of the Clark County School District's travel records, focusing on the district's senior staff, the superintendent and his top advisors.

You won't find any $1,000 bar tabs, luxury hotels or first class flights. But we did uncover a pattern of consistent travel that adds up to tens of thousands of dollars every year. District-wide, the number reaches into the millions.

Clark County Superintendent Walt Rulffes is the public face of the nation's fifth largest school district. It is a high-profile position requiring regular contact with students and teachers, public officials, and counterparts nationwide.

To meet those demands, according to travel records, the superintendent averages an out-of-district excursion every month. So where's Walt?

Between 2008 and 2010, he went to San Francisco four times, two trips to Washington, D.C., Monterey, California and Portland, Oregon. He also stopped off in Phoenix, Atlanta and Seattle. Within Nevada, he went to Reno, Carson City or Tahoe 20 times.

See Walt Rulffes' expense reports for 2008, 2009 and 2010

While some costs were covered by the event hosts, the vast majority came from district coffers, with trips ranging from more than $2,000 to less than $400.

But incomplete records provided by the district make it impossible to calculate a total.

Stephen Augspurger, the executive director of the Clark County School Administrator's Union,  questions not only the cost, but the value.

"What is the end result and purpose of that travel and for what benefit to the organization? It always has to translate down to schools, teachers, administrators and kids," he said.

Dr. Rulffes declined to discuss his jet setting, but his cabinet's most frequent-flyer, and yes they get to keep their miles, defended her spending.

"It's simply a cost of doing business," said Associate Superintendent of Government Relations Joyce Haldeman.

More than $37,000 worth of business travel was spent between 2008 and this year for Haldeman.

See Joyce Haldeman's expense reports for 2008, 2009 and 2010

"I can't tell you how much I would love my responsibility to be to drive down to the Sawyer Building every week and have that be my responsibility, but it's not. It's to be in Carson City," she said.

Like Rulffes, Haldeman, the district's chief lobbyist, is a frequent traveler to northern Nevada. She goes monthly for two to four hour meetings of the Nevada Association of School Superintendents, also attended by Rulffes, and weekly during the legislative session.

In 2009, the district spent nearly $50,000 to maintain Haldeman and two other employees in Carson City, not counting their six figure salaries.

"We don't hire contract lobbyists. We do the work ourselves in an attempt to save the taxpayer dollars," she said.

According to the records, during the session Haldeman travels modestly. Accommodations at $38 a night, economy airport parking and the use of a district vehicle instead of a rental.

But the sheer volume of weekly round trip flights, plus a $50 a day per diem, quickly add up. But should the taxpayers pick up the bill for Haldeman to come home on the weekends?

"Are you suggesting that as a part of my job I should move to Carson City? Again, I would just reiterate, it's the cost of doing business," she said.

The district has cut its overall travel costs nearly in half during the last three years, from nearly $4 million in 2008 to just over $2 million this year. Most of those trips, according to the district, are for training and professional development.

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