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Browder responds to traveling in district vehicle

By Staff | Aug 26, 2009

Lee County Schools Superintendent James Browder replied to criticism Tuesday over his use of a district vehicle for a school-related trip to Gainesville.
Browder made the 462-mile round-trip drive after the school board’s Aug. 11 meeting, although at the end of the meeting a local news crew witnessed Browder climbing into a district-issued vehicle from the “white fleet.”
Some members of the board and community were upset that Browder was using a district vehicle for the trip while also collecting a $900 monthly stipend for travel expenses.
The superintendent said that by using the vehicle he was saving the district money.
“I have been using a district vehicle as an initiative to save the district dollars by not requesting per mile reimbursement when traveling out of the district on business,” wrote Browder in his memorandum to the board.
He added that he began using district vehicles to save money in 2005.
Reimbursement for travel was a major topic of discussion in 2008 when the price of gas crept above $4 per gallon and the board decided to cancel travel stipends for board members.
If Browder had used his personal vehicle Aug. 11 he would have received 55 cents per mile. In his memorandum, the superintendent stated that using a district vehicle saved Lee County $154.10.
State laws have changed in relation to school district travel policies. According to Senate Bill 1676, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist in May, any out-of-state travel paid for with public funds needs to be approved by the school board.
On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved an out-of-state travel authorization worth $1,200 for district employees who are carrying out district business. The motion covers travel costs, meals and other incidental costs.
School Board Member Robert Chilmonik discussed the superintendent’s contract.
According to the contract, the “superintendent shall not be required to account for said allowance or file travel expenses.”
Chilmonik said the travel allowance is “more than adequate” for in-district and out-of-district travel.
“He would have to drive as many as 180 miles a day to get close to that allowance,” he said.