LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The former nutrition services director of a northern Kentucky school district ran up a travel bill exceeding $116,000 over five years that included trips to New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Japan, sometimes bringing other staffers along, according to a report Wednesday from the state auditor.
The report concluded the school district was lax in monitoring its finances. It said district officials were not aware of many of the out-of-state trips and did not learn of them until the office of State Auditor Adam Edelen requested records.
The former nutrition services director, Ginger Gray, held the position in the district for 23 years and retired last month.
One of the most expensive trips was in 2009 to Las Vegas for the School Nutrition Association's annual conference, where costs totaled more than $40,000. The report said 46 student nutrition service employees attended and expenses included "hotel charges, airfare, baggage fees, conference fees, meals and taxi services." The report said some of Gray's expenses were covered by a state association, though it did not say how much. A trip last year to Nashville for the same conference cost the district $19,000.
In most cases, the trips were for training purposes or to attend annual conferences, according to the report.
Gray said "she believed her travel was allowable as she had been told when hired, over 23 years ago, that the district would support her in obtaining the necessary continuing education hours ..." according to the report.
Attempts to locate a phone number for Gray were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
A phone message left for Kenton County deputy superintendent Barb Martin had not been returned Wednesday afternoon. Edelen said in a statement that the county school board agrees with the report's findings "and has already begun taking steps to implement my recommendations." Edelen said it's necessary for school districts to tighten their belts during tough economic times.
The auditor's report said in many cases, Gray did not follow the proper procedure for travel authorizations. In about two-thirds of the travel expenditures between July 2007 and June 2012, authorization request forms for about $124,000 were not completed. It also found that there were 24 out-of-state trips taken by nutrition department staff and seven included more than one employee.
Gray is apparently fond of travel. A story published on the school district's website in February said Gray, then 56, is an avid mountain climber and has traveled to Argentina, Tanzania and California to climb tall peaks. She also won a president's award of excellence from the School Nutrition Association last year.
The auditor's office said it initiated the investigation after receiving citizen complaints about travel and procurement.