Tooele School Employees Disciplined After Taxpayer-Funded Trip To Virtual Conference

Mar 23, 2021, 5:00 AM | Updated: 5:04 am

TOOELE, Utah – Five employees with the Tooele County School District will have to pay back thousands of taxpayer dollars after they went ahead on a trip for a conference that was changed to a virtual format.

The employees booked the trip to Savannah, Georgia, despite the online shift.

“This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this in the school district,” said Marie Denson, spokesperson for the Tooele County School District.

District officials were surprised to learn about the employees’ trip. They found out after KSL-TV filed a request for records through the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act.

“We actually found out through your GRAMA request as well as other new GRAMA requests to look into this,” Denson said.

The conference was for teachers, counselors and other staff to learn about at-risk youth. It’s attended every year, but the pandemic changed things this year.

When the conference went virtual, the employees still decided to go because they had purchased nonrefundable airfare and hotel rooms.

“That was definitely an error in judgment on their part because if they had notified someone it would have been disapproved,” said Denson.

Here’s what they spent:

  • Airfare per person cost between $300 to $500.
  • Registration for the conference was $2,098 for the group.
  • Their four-night stay at the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront was $7,771.

“They did attend the conference. They had copious notes. There was a lot of correspondence we were able to go through, but again, they could have done that in-person, here back home,” said Denson.

All five employees will now be required to pay back what they spent on airfare, hotel and per diems for an average of approximately $2,000 per person. They’re also facing other disciplinary action and the district said it’s severe enough to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“If there’s anyone who ever suspects fraud, waste or abuse let someone know because we want to be judicious with our taxpayer dollars,” said Denson.

District officials added even though the flights and hotel rooms were nonrefundable, they could have figured out a way to recoup the costs.

District policy has now changed. Employees can no longer purchase nonrefundable tickets and they have to notify their supervisor if there’s a change in travel.

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Tooele School Employees Disciplined After Taxpayer-Funded Trip To Virtual Conference