School board member spends $10K in travel
Dozier spent $10,487 traveling to conferences in San Francisco, Key West, DC
FORT MYERS - They didn't just leave their heart in San Francisco, they left your money.
A Fox 4 investigation discovered some Lee County School Board members are going on trips to conferences in Key West, San Francisco and Washington, D.C..
We pulled travel invoices for all board members over the past two years and discovered one board member spent more than $10,000 traveling on your dime.
Last April, inside a four-star Marriott in downtown San Francisco, school board members from across the country, including Dozier, flew in for a National School Board Association conference
The conference included a speech by Condoleeza Rice along with discussions on education and "saving money."
But this trip, which included socials and networking time, cost you $1773 including $460 for airfare and $880 for hotel.
Conferences a 'waste'?
"I do not see justification with anybody going to these things right now," said Lee County school board member Don Armstrong.
Armstrong has attended similar conferences in the past but stopped going calling it a waste.
"You got nothing out of it that could help the district?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"Nothing," said Armstrong. "There was nothing I got out of it that I couldn't read in a book."
Dozier racked up $10,487 over two years lobbying state and DC lawmakers, while also attending conferences like a leadership forum at the Washington D.C. Hilton and a five-day School Board Association legislative meeting in Key West.
"Can you justify this to taxpayers?," asked Grant.
"Yes actually I can," said Dozier. "I'm the legislative liaison to the board and I think all the parents are behind me when I go to Washington and I go to Tallahassee to actually advocate for their children."
When comparing the board member's travel over the past two years we discovered Jeanne Dozier spent more than anyone else.
- Tom Scott: $143
- Bob Chilmonik: $149
- Don Armstrong: $158
- Mary Fisher: $207
- Jane Kuckel: $947
- Steve Teuber: $2,868
- Jeanne Dozier: $10,487
As the board's designated legislative liaison, Dozier says she needs to be on the "front lines" when laws are debated and changed.
But the district already pays a Tallahassee-based lobbying group, Cerra Consulting Group Inc., more than $80,000 a year to lobby the Florida legislature on their behalf.
"I'm not ashamed of what I do," said Dozier. "And when I go out there I am advocating for the children."
Dozier says she needs to meet lawmakers face-to-face. She says the work she does is too important to be done by phone or teleconference.
"I can tell you right now I don't think that would be very well received by our legislators," said Dozier. "I would ask you to go and ask them."
So that's what we did. Fox 4 called State Rep. Paige Kreegel who represents portions of Lee County and prefers visits in his local office.
"Well it's a lot easier to get a face-to-face connection right here in my district office," said Kreegel, who says he is in town once a week during session.
"So you'd be in favor of them cutting back their travel to Tallahassee?," asked Grant.
"It sounds like a good idea me," said Kreegel.
Invoices show when Dozier traveled to that NSBA San Francisco conference - the one that cost you $1776 - Dozier turned it into a personal vacation staying two additional nights.
The conference ended at 5 p.m. April 11. Dozier checked out of the hotel on April 13. The district says she followed their travel policy - saying employees aren't forced to travel during "unreasonable" hours.
Taxpayers paid for her to stay the night on April 11. She paid to stay the following night, the district said.
But Dozier could have saved you $191 if she returned to Florida the day the conference ended.
Invoices also show Dozier spent $156 on eight cab rides in San Francisco. Over two years, she sent tax payers a bill for $40 for "telephone charges" even though the district says she has a district issued phone.
At the Nov. 8 board meeting, Dozier clarified that those charges were for faxes she received, not calls made.
In our 30 minute interview, Dozier said her trips were justified. She says they have resulted in more grant money coming to the district but couldn't say how much. And she says they have resulted in new programs, like Achieve 3000, being implemented.
"It's very extensive work," said Dozier. "But it does benefit our children in the long run."
Armstrong says he will bring up the issue of travel at next week's school board meeting. He wants all out-of-state trips to be approved by the board in a public forum.
Web Exclusive: Check out the unusual conclusion to our interview and the strange questions Dozier asked us before walking out of the room in our "Related Videos" section at left.
At the Nov. 8 board meeting, Dozier clarified that the "telephone charges" were bills for faxes she received.
Matt Grant, Reporter