News Story

How Did Detroit Schools Spend $286,596 On LA Conference?

Answer awaits district’s overdue response to open records law request

On Dec. 17, 2017, the Detroit Public Schools Community District sent the staff of its Office of Strategy to a six-day conference in Los Angeles at a cost of $286,596.

Under a spending transparency requirement lawmakers added to the school aid act in 2009, school districts must publish such expenses on their websites.

Other travel expense reports from the Detroit school district mention $250,000 in spending for staffers to attend a May 2019 conference in Italy and $240,000 for a six-day conference in Los Angeles in December 2018.

Michigan’s second largest school district is Utica Community Schools, and it has reported nothing comparable to the Detroit school for travel expenses. That district’s highest expense for out-of-state conferences in 2018-19 was $2,609. Those expenses included just transportation, hotel and registration costs.

The highest travel cost recorded by Ann Arbor Public Schools in 2018-19 was $19,746 for a conference in Nashville, where the district sent 12 people. There was no explanation for what those costs included.

Because districts can be vague on what expenses are included in the expenses they post, Michigan Capitol Confidential submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the Detroit school district. It sought details of the $286,596 cost incurred for staffers attending the 2017 conference in Los Angeles.

According to email correspondence between the school district and the Mackinac Center, the district first acknowledged the open records law request on Oct. 21, 2019. Government entities have up to 15 business days to respond to a document request, which would have meant the district had until Nov. 12 to reply.

The school district acknowledged in an email that it received a check for the information on Dec. 2. But in the 15 business days since the district received payment for the information, it has yet to provide any support for the $286,596 cost of this conference.

Two emails sent Dec. 16 and Dec. 20 to the district from Michigan Capitol Confidential received responses to the effect that the district was looking into the matter.