Meadville Tribune

State News

October 18, 2013

School board group mum on cost of speakers

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania School Boards Association conference featured a pair of costly celebrity keynote speeches, but the organization refused to disclose exactly how much it paid to Capt. Richard Phillips and Michael Eruzione.

Eruzione was the star of the U.S. men’s hockey team that beat the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Phillips’ misadventure with pirates inspired a new movie starring Tom Hanks.

About 800 school board directors from 300 school districts across Pennsylvania paid as much as $375 per person to attend the three-day conference sponsored by the school board association in Hershey.

Phillips and Eruzione each command in excess of $20,000 per speaking engagement, according to estimates advertised on websites of booking promoters.

While the association declined to describe how much it paid the keynote speakers, the PSBA did detail its revenue and expenses in forms it is required to submit to the IRS. The PSBA spent $2.5 million in 2012 putting on conferences like the one held this week, according to the IRS documents.

While only two-thirds of the school districts in the state were represented at the conference, almost all may share a portion of the cost of the event.

The PSBA brings in about $4.25 million in dues payments each year from Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts. Local school officials contacted Friday said that they pay dues for each administrator and board member who belongs to the PSBA, so the bills can easily run about $10,000 a district.

A portion of that money is diverted to help cover the costs of conferences like the one held this week, PSBA officials said. Association officials consider the conference a “benefit of membership” so the dues dollars used to try to keep down the cost for those who attend the event, said Craig Erdman, assistant executive director for administrative services for the school boards association.

Private organizations are not required to follow the state’s Right to Know law, said Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. But because of the many ways the school boards’ group interacts with public school districts and gets funding from taxpayers, the Office of Open Records has received numerous informal questions about the PSBA, she said.

Mutchler said that no one has asked her office to make a formal legal analysis of whether the school boards’ group should be required to comply with state open records law. Mutchler added that she would “welcome” the opportunity to weigh the question.

Whether the organization is obligated to comply with open records law is only part of the question.

“Because of all the concerns about funding of education, now more than ever, it is incumbent upon groups like the PSBA to answer questions about how they are spending tax dollars,” Mutchler.

Officials at the school board association and school directors who attended the event defended the conference and the decision to include celebrity speakers.

“In addition to the general session speakers, we have nearly 30 breakouts and several larger feature workshops,” PSBA spokesman Steve Robinson. “Training, education and motivation are critical for school directors. Strong governance has been shown to improve student achievement.”

Lewisburg school board member Kathy Swope said the conference provides real-world strategies for improving the way schools educate students.

Thursday, she spoke just after leaving a session on the importance of helping students make thoughtful decisions about their future career paths earlier in their academic lives.

“Professional development for school directors is just as important as professional development for teachers,” Swope said.

Swope liked Eruzione’s speech too. His message of working as a team to overcome daunting odds is relevant to the way a school board must learn to “check your ego at the door” in order to get things done.

As a member of the PSBA board, Swope got to attend the conference for free.

John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @cnhipa.

Text Only
State News
  • Well inspectors trying to keep up during boom time

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 27, 2014

  • PennDOT seeking outside help to make bridge repairs

    State officials are poised to sign a massive deal that will enlist outside help to rebuild and maintain up to 600 bridges, marking the Corbett administration’s latest foray into privatizing key government functions.

    July 24, 2014

  • Gov. Corbett pressures lawmakers in pension fight

    Gov. Tom Corbett is ratcheting up pressure on the Legislature to reform the state’s pension system by focusing on how often school districts use tax increases to offset costs.

    July 22, 2014

  • Experts: Expanding coverage fuels doc shortage

    Pennsylvania’s health care system absorbed more than 300,000 new patients who signed up for insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges. But experts worry the system can’t handle another wave of patients, twice as large, should the state expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

    July 13, 2014

  • Jerry Sandusky’s son tells story to Oprah Winfrey

    Jerry Sandusky’s adult son is speaking out about what he says was sexual abuse by his father.

    July 8, 2014

  • Environmentalists criticize drilling-for-dollars plan in state forests and parks

    Pennsylvania’s just finished budget calls for raising almost $100 million by expanding leases for gas development in state forests — even though leases the state has already issued are far from tapped out.

    July 3, 2014

  • Pennsylvania House approves Republicans' $29.1B budget

    The Legislature voted late Monday to put a looming, $1.5 billion shortfall in its rearview mirror, with a deal to pass a $29.1 billion budget that increases state spending by 1.8 percent but doesn’t hike taxes.

    June 30, 2014

  • Food safety delivery concerns rise with fuel prices

    A few weeks ago state agriculture inspectors forced a trucker to toss 2,000 pounds of food in the garbage after finding the cargo had not been kept at safe temperatures.

    June 15, 2014

  • Tow truckers hope to put brakes on dispatch system

    Some tow truck operators are boycotting a computerized dispatch system put in place by state police, complaining that it’s confusing and leads to longer response times than when troopers and dispatchers manage a call.

    June 1, 2014

  • 'Economics' of state gubernatorial campaigns

    Gov. Tom Corbett’s re-election campaign hailed April’s jobs numbers. Pennsylvania’s unemployment dipped to 5.7 percent — its lowest since 2008 and well below the national average of 6.3 percent.
    “The people of Pennsylvania elected me to Harrisburg on my promise of less taxes and more jobs, and we continue to see that promise ringing tr

    May 25, 2014