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ABC-7 I-TEAM follows the money: How much do school board trustees spend on meals

School board members are unpaid volunteers. But they do get one perk — your tax dollars feed their munchies during meeting. It’s district policy to feed its trustees and ABC-7 discovered, some trustees are eating more expensive meals and more often than others.

“There are times when our meetings go six to eight hours and it’s tough to concentrate on material that can sometimes be a little boring, when all you can think about is ‘man, I’m hungry,'” said Ysleta ISD board President Shane Haggerty.

“We’re making decisions that affect kids,” said Canutillo ISD board Vice President Adrian Medina. “And if my stomach is grumbling, I’m not listening.”

After looking at school-years’ worth of receipts, ABC-7 found a big discrepancy between how much districts spend on these meals. From 2014-15, EPISD’s board of managers met seven times. As a district policy, the only time food is served is during official board meetings, even though the board may meet for additional training and workshops. The largest district in El Paso — EPISD only spent $700. Its most expensive meal with $118.

YISD met 31 times and spent $3,514. Its most expensive meal was $155. SISD met 24 times and spent $7,971. Its most expensive meal was $562. Canutillo, the smallest district out the four, met 63 times during the school year. It’s district policy is to provide food for any type of meeting, every time there’s a meeting. It spent $10,647. Its most expensive meal was $330.

“The presence of food at a board meeting is not a waste, because we do need to have people focused on the task at hand,” Medina said.

A big factor in the food prices is where these boards order. At YISD, the district doesn’t have to go very far to feed its board members, the in-house cafeteria caters meetings. The food is prepared before the board meetings start.
YISD spends anywhere from $50-$150 to feed its board and any staff that has to stick around for the meetings.

“We don’t go out, but if it’s good enough for our students, its good enough for us,” Haggerty said. “And to be honest it is.”

On the other hand, SISD tends to spend $300-$400 per meeting on meals from Rudy’s and El Parque. Canutillo spends up to $330 per meetings ordering from places such as Ripe, Corner Bakery, Olive Garden, and Don Carbon.

“You’re comparing it to an inside catering at EPISD, I think those are two different providers and yes, you are going to get a cheaper price from EPISD catering, which is what we’re doing now with our own in house catering,” Medina said.

Canutillo started using Southwest Foodservice Excellence, a cafeteria service this school year. Medina said the board uses the service, about 9 times out of 10.

“It’s food. You’re there doing a job. It’s just something you do to make sure they’re not distracted,” Medina said.

“If we can sell that amount of food to our board and it’s a great as it is,” Haggerty said, “maybe we can look into helping the other districts and we can cook for them.”

The Canutillo school board came under media scrutiny in 2014 for spending $30,000 to attend a conference in New Orleans. In 2015, the Canutillo board voted to increase its travel allowance to $57,800 a year, which is by about $20,000 more than any other district in the county.

Canutillo’s trustees though, stand by their decisions.

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