Wed, April 01

Yavapai College travel costs top $600K in 2019

Graphic illustration by Matt Van Doren

Graphic illustration by Matt Van Doren

In the 2018-19 school year, Yavapai College’s administrative and student travel budgets increased as much as $53,000 over the prior year, with the biggest hike being for student travel as well as for costs associated with the hiring of top administrative staff.

Yavapai College last year hired a new president, a vice president and two deans.

Though the Governing Board and college leadership did not go on location visits for its new hires, there were expenses associated with bringing finalists to the Prescott-based campus for interviews, officials said.

Yavapai College operating budget is $45 million; $86 million in all funds. The travel budget accounted for individual department budgets rather than as a line-item expense composes less than 1% of the total budget.

For the 2018-19 school year, the college spent $641,701 in travel expenses. The year before the college spent $548,285.

Yavapai College Vice President of Community Relations Rodney Jenkins said travel costs typically fluctuate year-to-year based on particular department needs, with those expenses expected to be calculated into each department’s budget.

The Governing Board votes on a total budget package, but does not scrutinize how individual departments spend the dollars. Each department is responsible for prioritizing its budget, Jenkins explained, adding that if more is needed for travel then that would mean less dollars for some other area.

Budget Director Duane Ransom agreed with Jenkins. Asked if college employees are following proper guidelines for travel approvals and reimbursements, Ransom said, “Yes, certainly. I believe they are.”

Governing Board President Deb McCasland said travel approvals and procedures are left to the college’s executive branch. Board members see costs for board-related business and education travel only in its budget.

“I know under Dr. (Lisa) Rhine’s leadership, the college has travel procedures that include several levels of checks and balances that closely follow state standards,” the board president said.

“Whatever we do is pretty much consistent from institution to institution,” Jenkins said.

State Travel Policy

Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng’s $40,000 worth of foreign travel, including a trip to Russia with her husband, earned a red flag from state auditors, leading to her reimbursement of some of those expenses, particularly for an upgrade from coach to business class, according to reporting by the Arizona Republic in Phoenix.

Cheng admitted she should have provided more documentation, but affirmed the trips were for legitimate university business. No taxpayer or tuition dollars were used for the international travel.

University board members affirmed they will be reviewing their travel policies to assure they meet all state criteria.

Yavapai College Policy

The community college’s 15-page travel procedure manual related to student, employee and board member travel are thorough and strict, referencing the state of Arizona travel policy as the principal authority for any such trips and expenses.

Other than routine mileage for district business, most in-state and out-of-state travel requires pre-authorization through the business office, with out-of-state travel requiring approval of the budget manager as well as the college vice president. For group student travel associated with a course or activity, such as a backpacking trip, only a single group authorization is required, the policy states.

The policy covers travel reimbursements for the individual — spouses are not included — with those expenses primarily limited to mileage or flight costs, lodging, parking, meals and any associated conference or training fees.

“All travel arrangements should be fair and equitable but planned for the convenience of the college using the most economical means when it comes to method of travel, times of travel, rates, accommodations and other personal preferences,” the policy reads.

Student meal coverage requires submission of detailed receipts, the policy requires.

In his college role, Jenkins said he is required to budget a considerable amount for travel because his job requires him to lobby at both the state and national level on issues pertinent to community colleges. “As much as I travel, I can’t take anybody,” Jenkins noted. “I can’t spend $80 on a meal.”

The bulk of travel is for conferences and educational training, but that is certainly scrutinized based on value to the college, Jenkins said.

“I can’t request to go to Spain because there is a film festival there,” Jenkins said. “There has to be a rationale. And another vice president has to sign off.

“There are strict standards for a reason: to protect us all.”

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