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Travel Costs for Colleges Fly Too High, Critics Say

August 31, 1989|KEN McALPINE

The Ventura County Community College District's proposed budget allows an expenditure of more than $100,000 for travel by administrators and trustees--nearly twice the sum they spent just two years ago.

The $57.8-million budget is to be considered by the district's Board of Trustees at their meeting Tuesday, and the travel expenses are almost certain to spark a conflict.

While some administrators and board members argue that attending seminars and conferences is both necessary and justified, two trustees have questioned the frequency of the trips.

Trustee Greg Kampf, who joined the board in July, said he is "a bit suspicious of the amount of money" proposed for travel. He said he would ask for "a full accounting of exactly what kinds of conferences and who's doing the travel."

Timothy Hirschberg, a trustee since 1987, was more critical. He said the district's "ballooning, runaway" travel budget reflects skewed priorities, diverting money from education to unnecessary trips.

Travel Criticized

Administrators are "crisscrossing the country in search of conferences," he charged. "It's been my impression over the last year that a lot of the administrators have been away from their desks a little bit too much. They're more valuable to us here . . . being available to the students and the staff members."

Hirschberg's comments angered board President Tom Ely.

"Pick on travel," he said. "It sounds like everybody's going out and partying and attending conferences with funny hats and noisemakers and drinks. It's not that kind of thing in any regard."

Such trips actually have benefited the district by "millions and millions of dollars," said Ely, a 10-year trustee. He said the benefits stemmed from staying on top of pending legislation and keeping abreast of cost-cutting measures instituted elsewhere.

He criticized Hirschberg's claims as dishonest and one-sided, contending that travel expenditures are a convenient target for someone bent on political advancement.

In 1987-88, the district spent $55,000 of its $75,700 budgeted travel allowance for some 60 employees, including its six trustees. The expenses ranged from mileage for trips between Ventura, Moorpark and Oxnard colleges to air fare, hotel and restaurant bills for trips to Washington and Sacramento to meet with legislators. The following year, the district spent $76,047 of its $93,000 travel budget. It proposes a $101,895 travel budget for 1989-90.

$21,100 for Trustees

The proposed budget earmarks $21,000 in travel expenses for the trustees and $12,400 for Chancellor Barbara A. Derryberry.

By contrast, Orange County's Coast Community College District has budgeted $5,640 in travel for Chancellor Alfred Fernandez for the 1989-90 year, less than half Derryberry's allowance. However, a Coast district spokesman said, some of Fernandez's travel during the year is paid by other educational organizations that he represents.

Coast Community College District, a three-college district with almost 20,000 more students than the 31,000 in the Ventura County district, has also budgeted only $12,000 in travel for its trustees, compared to the $21,000 proposed for the Ventura County district.

Tom Kimberling, Ventura's vice chancellor of administrative services, defended the administrators' travel increases, pointing to the board's decision to create the new position of executive vice chancellor and an $8,800 infusion in state funds earmarked for travel. Apart from those developments, the district's proposed travel budget hasn't increased at all, he said.

"This year's budget is . . . essentially identical to the same level we experienced in 1988-89," Kimberling said.

Kimberling also said the $55,000 figure for the 1987-88 year was artificially low because trustees voted that year to limit their travel expenses to $1,000 each. That decision was made because of conflict on the board over allegedly excessive travel expenses, he said.

Figure Doubted

Derryberry said her proposed travel budget was not out of line. She said she doubted that Fernandez, Ventura's chancellor before leaving for Coast, could get by with just the $5,640 budgeted by the Coast district.

"I don't know what's going on at Coast, but you're not getting the right information," she said.

Some districts larger than Ventura spend less on travel, but their locations help make travel less expensive.

At Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento, the budget calls for $6,000 for the chancellor's travel expenses and $14,000 for the eight-member board. That three-college district has 70,000 students.

San Francisco Community College District Chancellor Hilary Hsu cautioned against "comparing apples with oranges." That district's seven board members spent just $5,000 for travel last year, but they drive to meetings in Sacramento, rather than fly, and do less overall driving than their counterparts in Southern California, Hsu said.

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