SPECIAL REPORT: School District 51 Spent Thousands for Catering and Bowling

By: Jessica Zartler Email
By: Jessica Zartler Email

Pizza, catering and bowling for teachers and staff. Those are just some of the things we found in the check register and credit card statements from Mesa County Schools.

With a budget of more than $140 million, we asked how much of your tax money is really going to the kids.

11 News Reporter Jessica Zartler found the answer in a special report.

It is no easy task to take in more than 800 pages of spending by School District 51's administration and break down where that money came from and where it went.

But 11 News took a snapshot of statements from the 2007–2008 school year and sat down with the District to find out why they would have racked up more than a thousand dollars at GJ Scores, more than $9,200 for pizzas, and nearly $48,000 for catering.

And if this is just a snapshot, where is all of your money really going?

In one year, teachers and staff for District 51 spent almost $1,000 for business meetings at the Ale House.

They munched on more than $3,100 worth of food at Junction Square Pizza.

They ordered up more than $6,300 of Chick Fil–A.

Dined on almost $30,000 worth of Omar’s Catering.

And footed the bill for new teachers to go bowling, just over $1,000.
Spending that has many in Grand Junction raising their eyebrows.

"They should pay that out of their own pocket," Jerry Smith told 11 News.

"I think that's ridiculous," said Amanda Liberto.

"For that much i think it's a little goofy, I mean that's that much that could be going to school supplies, books, new books," Melora Coyle told 11 News about the spending.

11 News requested administrative spending reports from the District and picked 28 food and entertainment vendors from the 843 page report.

When we took a closer look we found just over $84,000 in spending on food and events for teachers and staff, enough to pay the salaries of two new teachers.

But Melissa Callahan DaVita, Executive Director of Support Services for the District, says it sounds like a lot of money but compared to the overall budget, it's not.

"It's a very small percent."

In fact, six–tenths of a percent of the more than $141 million budget.

Callahan DaVita says with almost 3,300 employees, a meal here and meal there can add up. But she says it's far from frivolous spending.

"We don't feed our employees on a daily event, most teachers either pack their lunch or eat at the cafeteria," Callahan Davita told 11 News in an interview.

She says many of the lunches are actually dinners when the District asks the teachers to stay for training and meetings.

The District says paying $10 for a pizza is much cheaper than pulling teachers out of class and having to pay a $100 for a substitute.

"We're asking them to meet in the evenings, keeping them from their families, and so having an expenditure for food when we're asking them to meet 5pm to 7pm at night, is not an unreasonable expenditure."

As far as bowling and other expenses for teachers and staff, Callahan DaVita says its not just a fun night out, it's a time for team building.

"That is not an overly outrageous amount of money to spend to try and build those relationships."

And this $84,000 snapshot is a small part of what the administration spends, and an even smaller portion of the entire budget for District 51.

Out of every dollar, only one cent is spent on administration.

Another 16 cents is spent to keep the lights on and the schools running.

And the remaining 83 cents out of every dollar goes to the kids.

It's spent on teachers, the curriculum and books.

Callahan DaVita says one cent of every dollar is not a lot for administrative costs, but admits spending for lunches and activities is not a necessity. And as the district looks to make millions of dollars in cuts next year, pizzas and catering may be a thing of the past.

"Will some of these be cut, absolutely. If things are not contributing to student learning and growth those are the first things on our list," said Callahan Davita.

And she says the District will continue to look at where the money is going and try to make sure it's going to the right place.

School District 51's budget is audited every year by an independent firm and it has won several awards for excellence in financial reporting.

The District has also gone from borrowing $2.7 million dollars from the state to having a $7.8 million reserve.

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  • by Ben Location: GJ on May 14, 2009 at 06:38 PM
    Really? This is irresponsible reporting at worst and a completely misleading headline at best. As the spouse of a teacher, I can assure you that the dedicated employees of District 51 collectively donate many thousands of hours of their own time after the final bell rings for the benefit of the students they teach. 12 and 14 hour days are not uncommon. Not to mention the thousands of dollars of their own money they spend each year on books, supplies for those that can't afford it, fundraisers, etc. Come on KKCO, you can do better than this.
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