Andrea Merida, Denver Public Schools board member and Westword cover subject, has been making headlines once again. Education News Colorado was the first to report this week that Merida had overspent her $5,000 DPS-boardmember budget by more than $7,000. More than $4,000 of the $12,637 she spent from July 2010 to June 2011 was at restaurants, while at least another $2,400 was spent on travel.
Merida, never afraid to speak her mind, defended the expenses. "This is the cost of community engagement," she told Education News Colorado. Many of her expenses were noted as "constituent meetings," and Merida said she often has to meet her constituents at dinner time because that's when they're available.
She wasn't the only board member to overspend. Education News Colorado reported that board president Nate Easley and vice president Arturo Jimenez also overspent, though not by as much. Both men vowed to pay the district back for their excess expenditures.
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And yesterday, Merida followed suit. From a post on her blog:
Just a quick note to tell you that I've decided to pay back what I overspent from our board allotment. I want to be very clear, however, that I did not personally benefit from any of the expenses. There is no personal enrichment here, only spending to outreach to you and to become a better board member.
The board president and I will go over what that amount actually is, since there's still a lot of confusion about what should be part of the allotment and what is "traditionally" covered as a function of our duties. Once we get the accounting straightened out, I will know what the amount is and will work to pay it back, however painful. It's only right.
The board president and I are also working together to put some policy in place. Nothing should be left to memory, and our procedures need to be put down on paper as we transition for the next board that will be elected in November. We still don't have a system to help members track what they're spending, and it's not fair to anyone (especially to you) to leave things so loose.
Please let me know if you have questions or concerns, as always.
Will a more thorough review reveal different numbers, as it did for treasurer Mary Seawell, whom DPS first claimed had overspent her budget but then announced that some more math revealed she hadn't? Stay tuned.
More from our Education archives: "Ed Salem, who recently resigned as principal of North High, to work as a DPS teacher this fall."