The threat of teacher layoffs has not gone away in the Beaumont Independent School District, but many people say the district has not examined all cost-cutting options.
12News filed a public information request and found out how much BISD spent on meals during board meetings this past year at taxpayer expense. We decided to look into this after a meeting we covered in May. Several board members were meeting with representatives from the teachers' associations.
We found it ironic that the topic was teacher layoffs in order to cut expenses, yet money had been spent on food for a meeting that lasted less than an hour.
So we decided to dig deeper.
It seems board trustees are fans of Tony's Barbecue, having spent more than $2,500 there between August 2013 and May of this year. Twice in the month of October, which is also the month BISD spent the most on board meals, almost $2,000.
12News obtained menus and invoices for the 10-month period that made up the 2013-14 school year by filling out a Freedom of Information request.
We found that at most meetings, BISD did not just feed the seven board members and Superintendent Timothy Chargois, Ed.D, taxpayers footed the bill for 30 people. Each meal ranging in price from $15 to $30 a person.
In our request, we asked the district who was being fed, but we never received that part of the request.
However, a source told us that before Dr. Chargois became superintendent, the superintendent's cabinet began being fed. That was about seven people, and we're told after Chargois took over, he added police officers, who were working the meeting, to the list.
The menus are considered elaborate by those familiar with what's served in other districts.
For the August 15, 2013 board meeting, ribeye steaks were served. The total cost of that meal to taxpayers was $840.
Trustee Gwen Ambers, who is the board president, said, "I don't think that you would call meals that we eat fancy or elaborate."
There were also theme dinners. In October, for Hispanic Heritage Month, there were beef and cheese enchiladas and beef fajitas and all the fixings. The cost was $600.
For Black History Month in February, fried chicken and neck bones were on the menu, That meal was $750. The board also celebrated Thanksgiving during their November board meeting, but not just with turkey, fried pork chops were also an option, that was another $750 tab.
March also offered board members and option of chicken fried steak and roasted pork loin, and in April, a seafood lovers menu of fried shrimp, fish and shrimp scampi.
In January, the board celebrated itself with a board appreciation reception spending $175 on cookies and punch, then later that evening a board appreciation dinner costing $500, with the main course of chuck roast and more dessert, pound cake with whipped cream and fresh berries.
When we added up the bills on how much the board spent on meeting meals this past school year, the grand total was $14,632.50. But when you add in the $2,742.01 in overtime to prepare the meals, taxpayers paid a total of $17,374.51.
Ambres told us she really doesn't consider this an issue, saying it's only fair to feed people who have been at work all day and heading straight into a meeting.
Ambres said, "That's a little too much under the microscope, I just don't think it's that big a deal for people who have been on the job from seven o'clock in the morning to maybe 11 in the night, and I don't think this is that big a deal."
We did check with other school districts and the cost is not even close.
Port Arthur ISD feeds just its board at meetings at an annual cost of $3,000. Galveston ISD does the same at $2,500 a year. Neither school has labor costs.
And we also checked with Nederland PN-G school districts. They say they feed the board two or three times a year, usually sandwich trays during budget workshops.
We also checked with the Texas Education Agency about board meals. Spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson told us it's really a local issue up to the individual districts.
But she also said, "The TEA is working very diligently. It's very important to get our board of managers into the Beaumont ISD, so that they can get a lot of issues resolved and get the district to where it's the pride of the community."
Culbertson also told us that the TEA doesn't provide meals for state board of education meetings.