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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Receipts show WLC educators stayed at expensive hotels, ordered pricey meals

WILTON – On the second day of an educational conference in San Francisco, the Wilton-Lyndeborough School District credit card was used to pay for a $48 lunch bill at the Cheescake Factory restaurant. The receipt shows orders for a blackened chicken sandwich and Italian Tiramisu cheesecake. During that 45 minute meal that ended at 12:29 p.m., there were also two orders for the “Ultimate Margarita” at $12 each.

The credit card bore the name of Superintendent of Schools Trevor Ebel and was kept in his possession.

The costs associated with three professional conferences became an issue after an audit of Wilton-Lyndeborough School District spending flagged the use of the district’s credit card to pay for alcohol, movies and limousine service. Ebel repaid the school district for some of the charges, according to the audit.

A review of credit card expenses and receipts during three trips to educational conferences shows the further away teachers and administrators went from the Wilton or Lyndeborough school districts the more freely they tended to spend public money.

During the same trip to California when Ebel charged two margaritas during a lunch break from a conference, Ebel also signed two receipts for limousines charged to the district credit card – one for $170 and one for $145.

During an earlier educational conference in Pittsburg, Pa., the receipt for Ebel’s $219 per-night hotel room showed two movie charges – one for $37.44 and another for $16.04.

The School Board is scheduled to meet tonight to discuss a report from Manchester attorney Dean B. Eggert, who was hired to look into inappropriate charges on the district’s credit card and to decide whether any employees owe the district money.

Credit card statements show thousands of dollars were spent for three major conference trips in 2010-2011 – to Boston, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Pa., made by teachers and administrators.

The money was spent on airfare, hotel reservations, meals and rental cars, including $5,000 in room charges at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel, $3,600 for hotel rooms in San Francisco and meal tabs of up to $894 and valet parking at $44 a day for some of the participants.

During a trip to San Francisco for the annual conference of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development March 26-28, 2011, seven teachers and administrators spent more than $3,000 on hotel rooms and also racked up a $724.35 tab from the McCormick & Kuletos seafood restaurant, a bill that included two orders of Chilean sea bass for $69.90 and $123.75 in charges for alcohol. The receipt shows the diners paid $53 in cash towards the bill, which brought the total charge on the school district credit card to $671.35. Gratuity was included on the bill.

During the same trip there was also a $500.84 tab at the 5A5 Steak Lounge, and a $182.87 bill at the Palomino restaurant signed by Ebel, which did not include an itemized list of what was purchased.

In contrast, receipts from the Wilton House of Pizza and C&S Pizza, for contract negotiation sessions in October and November of 2010, ran between $19.35 and $85.

During another conference in August 2010, six teachers and administrators stayed at the SpringHill Suites in Pittsburgh, Pa. for the Leader in Me Global Educational Summit held at the California University of Pennsylvania, about 35 miles from Pittsburgh.

Expenses for the two-night trip included a $493.54 car rental bill and $594.80 for one suite, for Ebel, four $499.32 suites and one $362.52 suite. The hotel receipt shows that Ebel’s room was charged twice for movies for a total of $53.48.

On Nov. 24, 2010, there were nine charges at the Boston Park Plaza for $382.26 each and one at $432 when hotel rooms were booked for 11 teachers and administrators who went to a conference by the Northeast Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Meal receipts shows a $513.56 charge for 15 guests at Legal Seafoods, and a receipt from Flemings Steak House shows a party of 14 had a $894.14 tab that included nine servings of filet mignon -- two orders were porcini-dusted for $73.90. Other dinners on the meal ticket included a bone-in ribeye steak for $43.50, a lamb chop for $35.95 and a pepper steak for $39.50.

Another charge at the Logan Airport Hudson News shows a $9.99 charge for “Swimsuit,” presumably Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue. Those charges were later reimbursed to the school district, officials said.

Also in August of 2011 there was an Administrative Leadership Retreat attended by nine administrators, including the three district principals at the Eagle Mountain House in Lincoln.

The Telegraph attempted to contact several of the educators who were on the trips, including Ebel. WLC Principal Brian Bagley said he could not comment and so did one of the teachers. The other calls were not returned. A man answered a cell phone number given for Ebel, but said that the paper had the wrong number.

School Board members have said Ebel is on medical leave and last week named Bagley acting superintendent in his absence.

Bagley went on the Nov. 24 Boston conference as well as the San Francisco conference, and Ebel attended all three of the major trips.

Board Chairman Geoffrey Brock has said trip expenses were paid for through federal education grants.

He also said the board might talk about tightening the limits for rooms and meal purchases.

Aside from the credit card issue, the audit also cited about a dozen instances of failed compliance by the district, including improper handling of purchase orders and untimely deposits of district funds.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.